CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin used his farewell speech Wednesday to recount his administration’s efforts to deal with the coal industry’s downturn, a drug epidemic and budget shortfalls, and to propose a new state budget.
The 64-year-old Tomblin, a Democrat, leaves after two terms and six years in office.
He received a standing ovation by a joint session of the House of Delegates and the state Senate, which he formerly led. Both now have Republican majorities.
Tomblin said his administration has attracted businesses to diversify West Virginia’s economy, increased treatment for drug abuse, cut the budget by $600 million over five years, and reduced several taxes.
“We continue to work to diversify our economy and I know the improvements we’ve made will pay long-term dividends in job growth and investment,” Tomblin said. “But we’re not there yet, and part of being fiscally responsible means making sure that we can pay our bills without taking the Rainy Day Fund to dangerously low levels or cutting services to the point where we cannot care for our people or educate our students.”
To balance the budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, Tomblin is proposing a 1 percent increase in the state’s consumer sales tax. State financial officials, citing tax collections below estimates, have projected a $400 million deficit.
Tomblin said the increase in the sales tax would raise $200 million, and he also proposed eliminating the current sales tax exemption on telecommunication services, a move he said would be in line with most of the country.
The longtime West Virginia Senate president became acting governor after Gov. Joe Manchin, another Democrat, was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2010. Tomblin won a special election as governor the following year and was elected to a full four-year term in 2012.
The governor declared attracting business as his top priority for a state that has faced both a national recession and several coal mine closings. During his farewell speech Wednesday, he cited Procter & Gamble’s decision to build a factory in the state’s eastern panhandle as well as Toyota’s $1.4 billion investment and nine expansions since 1996. The Japanese automaker now employs 1,600 people in the state.
“Manufacturing jobs, like those at P & G in Martinsburg and Toyota in Buffalo, will be among the most critical to our state’s economic future,” Tomblin said. “While we all continue to hope that the coal industry will rebound, that hasn’t happened quickly and it likely won’t ever return to the levels that we once saw.”
Tomblin’s successor, Democratic businessman and coal mine owner Jim Justice, is scheduled to be inaugurated Monday. Justice is expected to propose his own budget, and the Legislature also will weigh in.