Tomblin Takes The Oath Again

CHARLESTON – Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vowed to put “West Virginia first” while protecting the coal industry and advancing education reform during his inaugural address Monday at the State Capitol.

The 60-year-old Democrat took the oath of office for his only full four-year term from West Virginia Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Benjamin.

In a 20-minute speech, Tomblin touched on his accomplishments including fixing the state’s ailing pension system and reforming and stabilizing the Workers’ Compensation system, before turning attention to his key initiatives and the future.

“During my years in public service, I’ve worked hard to create a brighter future for West Virginia, and I’ve approached every decision, every challenge and every opportunity with one goal – and that is putting West Virginia first,” Tomblin said.

“Our journey to transform this state began over 25 years ago. The road we have traveled has not always been easy. But, we have done it the right way – working together with business, labor, Republican and Democrat, to solve our problems.”

Tomblin directed his strongest comments of the day at education reform.

” I remain concerned about our future. All of our hard work will be for nothing if jobs are not available and if our children are not prepared to thrive and be productive citizens in our workforce,” he said. “We have hard working teachers. Per capita, our education funding ranks among the nation’s best. But on our most important metric – student achievement – we’re falling behind. It doesn’t need to be this way, and it must stop.”

In protecting West Virginia jobs, “unfortunately for me, that means in many instances fighting the federal government to get off our backs and leave us alone,” Tomblin said, drawing applause. “But this is a fight that I will not concede and I will never back down.”

West Virginia is the nation’s second-largest provider of coal and the nation’s largest exporter, although thousands of coal industry jobs have been lost to an economic slowdown, competition from cheap natural gas, and tougher federal air and water pollution regulations.

Tomblin has repeatedly criticized President Barack Obama’s approach to coal industry regulation. He has continued to pursue a federal lawsuit filed against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by his predecessor, Sen. Joe Manchin. The EPA has repeatedly sparred with the mining industry over Clean Water Act-related permits, particularly for mountaintop removal mining operations.

The governor also addressed increased economic growth despite a lagging economy. He touted the July 1 elimination of the state’s food tax, which will put “money back in the pockets of hard working West Virginians.”

“We’ve cut taxes for our businesses, too,” Tomblin said. “The Mountain State has not seen a general tax increase in the past 20 years. We are eliminating our business franchise tax, and we continue to cut our corporate net income tax.”

“Because our financial house is in order we can start looking toward the future,” Tomblin added. “We have created thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in new investments in the past two years.”

All members of the state’s congressional delegation attended the inauguration, as did Sen. Jay Rockefeller and former governors Gaston Caperton and Bob Wise.

The Associated Press contributed to this report