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Tomblin Faces Tough Choices

January 14, 2013
The Intelligencer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Congratulations, Gov. Tomblin. Again. It is unfortunate you won't have much time to celebrate.

Later today, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin will be sworn in as West Virginia's chief executive - for the third time in three years. The ceremony this afternoon will mark his election to a full four-year term as governor.

Since the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd died in 2010, Tomblin, formerly president of the state Senate, has been forced to campaign virtually non-stop. First, after former Gov. Joe Manchin resigned after being elected to fill the Senate seat vacated by Byrd's death, Tomblin filled in as acting governor.

Then he won a special election to serve the last year of the term as governor. Finally, last November, voters installed Tomblin for a full four-year term.

Whew. But even as he was battling through the politics of becoming the state's top elected official, Tomblin had to face the realities that go with the office. They are daunting, to say the least.

After several years in which governors and legislators enjoyed budgets that usually produced year-end surpluses, the situation has changed drastically - in large measure due to action by the federal government.

The state-federal Medicaid program is costing much more than it did in the past, opening a budget gap some have estimated at $200 million. That will have to be closed.

Making the process more difficult is the White House war against the coal industry. That already has begun to affect severance tax collections adversely.

Finally, some surrounding states have approved casino gambling. Revenue from West Virginia's four casinos lags as a result.

So Tomblin and legislators have what we in the Mountain State sometimes refer to as a "tough row to hoe."

And by the way, there's the matter of public education reform.

Some might be tempted to wonder why anyone would want to be governor during such a trying era. Tomblin insists he revels in public service during challenging times.

Good for him, then. He and lawmakers should tackle the hard choices in the same spirit state government has been handled for several years - that fiscal responsibility must be the foundation of all decisions, and balancing budgets on the backs of taxpayers is not an option.

 
 

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