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Gov. Tomblin is rolling in political capital

A recent survey by Republican pollster Mark Blankenship found that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is riding a remarkable crest of popularity.

Tomblin's job approval rating is at 69 percent, unchanged from March. That's higher than Sen. Joe Manchin (63 percent) and Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (54 percent).

Perhaps more importantly, voters don't blame Tomblin for the state's economic problems, and the governor can thank President Obama for that.

When asked who is most responsible for job losses in West Virginia, nearly half said the president. Fifteen percent said the West Virginia Legislature, 10 percent said Congress, and only 3  percent blamed Tomblin.

That's amazing, especially since West Virginia has lost jobs over the last year and Republicans criticized Tomblin and the Democratic majorities in both houses for not doing more this past session for job creation.

So Tomblin has this bank of political capital. What's he going to do with it?

One challenge for the governor is to figure out a way West Virginia can take full advantage of the enormous Marcellus shale reserves. The gas boom has cooled a bit because of over-supply and the drop in prices, but West Virginia is going to be pumping gas for years to come.

The key to maximizing the economic benefit to the state is to make sure that industries that use natural gas as a feedstock locate here.

How do we do that?

Tax reform? Tort reform? A better infrastructure for natural gas shipping and storage?

The state has made progress on the tax front in recent years with the lowering of the corporate net and the elimination of the business franchise tax, but there is still work to be done.

West Virginia has an onerous personal property tax on the inventory, machinery and equipment of a business that could be eliminated (Republicans have been pushing for that).

Tomblin could tackle the state's crumbling roads and bridges. The state's gas tax no longer keeps up with highway construction and repair needs. Taxes and/or fees would have to be raised.

Tomblin may be reluctant to go there, especially in 2014, since many Democrats, who are most likely to support an increase, will be up for re-election.

The governor will also face pressure next legislative session to raise teachers salaries. The unions believe they are due, especially after they compromised on the governor's major education reform legislation this year.

The trick will be finding money for a raise while also paying the rest of the state's bills, including rising Medicaid costs.

Tomblin has kept in his back pocket a cigarette tax increase. West Virginia's per-pack tax (55 cents) is among the lowest in the nation, and sin taxes are usually the easiest to raise.

Tomblin had a couple of significant accomplishments in the last session, including education reform and a new law to relieve prison overcrowding.  He has an opportunity to do more, but that window will close quickly.

Next year, politics will play an even bigger role under the Capitol dome because it will be an election year and Republicans believe they have a chance to take over the House of Delegates.

And it won't be long afterward that lawmakers will begin to see Tomblin, who cannot run again in 2016, as a lame duck.

Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.




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