From budget shortfalls to comprehensive reforms, 2015 brings challenges and progress for West Virginia

Special to HNN From a Gov. Tomblin Press Statement
CHARLESTON, W.Va.  - Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin  looked back on 2015 - highlighting both challenges and new steps forward on issues that have defined his term as governor and his ongoing efforts to secure a bright future for West Virginians in the New Year and for years to come.
  "Each year serving as your governor has presented a number of unique challenges and progress worth celebrating. As we look back on 2015 and forward to the New Year, I'm grateful for the opportunity to continue serving the people of West Virginia," Gov. Tomblin said. "In the past year, we worked hard to manage our state budget shortfall and address our state's substance abuse epidemic. We have secured a several large-scale economic development opportunities and created a variety of new programs to help put West Virginians back to work and on the path toward a bright and successful future. As we move forward on the path we've worked hard to create, it is important to reflect on the past year to help us create an even better 2016."
In February, Gov. Tomblin announced global consumer products giant Procter & Gamble (P&G) would build a new manufacturing plant in Berkeley County, an investment of approximately $500 million. The new facility will be the 26th manufacturing operation in the country and the first plant built in the United States since the 1970s. In September, Gov. Tomblin joined state and local officials to break ground on the Tabler Station plant, bringing 1,000 construction jobs and 700 full-time positions to the Eastern Panhandle, P&G's fifth-largest workforce in the United States.
"Welcoming P&G to the Eastern Panhandle will forever be one of my favorite memories as your governor. We've worked hard to bring new jobs and opportunities to West Virginia for West Virginians, and our people are ready to get to work," Gov. Tomblin said. "This past year brought significant growth for many companies that call the Mountain State home. This year, we celebrated expansions by Sistersville Tank Works in Pleasants County, Conley Fabrication in Wood County, Cenergy in Cabell County and a number of others to congratulate West Virginians on a job well done."
In January, Gov. Tomblin joined Senate President Bill Cole, House Speaker Tim Armstead and representatives from the West Virginia Legislature to announce positive returns on the state's investments and a proposed $44 million decrease in the Rainy Day Fund contribution for the 2016 fiscal year budget. After months of sluggish severance tax collections, however, Gov. Tomblin announced a 4 percent across-the-board reduction for most state agencies.   "Reducing our fiscal year 2016 budget was a difficult decision caused by several factors beyond our control," Gov. Tomblin said. "Although these reductions were not easy for any of us, they are necessary for us to maintain a balanced budget. These cuts also allow us to use much less of our state's Rainy Day Fund to fill the projected shortfall - a move that ultimately helps maintain our bond rating and reducing borrowing costs. This fund was created for unexpected and difficult times such as this, and our decades long commitment to fiscal responsibility has put is in a better position than most states across the country. As we move into the New Year, I encourage the Legislature to consider opportunities to diversify our state's revenue base and continue our fiscally sound policies well into the future."
Since becoming governor in 2011, workforce development has been one of Gov. Tomblin's top priorities. In conjunction with the West Virginia Workforce Planning Council, Gov. Tomblin hosted the state's first Workforce Summit, a comprehensive review of the state's workforce development efforts for education, business and industry leaders across the state.
"For years, the West Virginia Workforce Planning Council has operated behind the scenes, but we have a great story to tell and it's time we start telling it," Gov. Tomblin said. "The Workforce Summit highlighted the significant progress we've made with folks from across the state to expand workforce training and education programs, giving West Virginians the best opportunities to develop the skills they need to achieve success in high-demand fields. These efforts are guaranteed to help us develop the workforce that companies operating here need."
In October, Gov. Tomblin also announced an additional $7.6 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Labor to help coal miners affected by layoffs and mine closures take advantage of job training and career services for new careers, if that's a choice they wish to make. This grant funding provides tuition assistance - up to $5,000 - for classroom and online skills training, supports 25 on-the-job training positions and provides meal, travel and child care allowances for both miners and their families.
In February, a 109-CSX train traveling through West Virginia derailed near Mt. Carbon, Fayette County, requiring the evacuation of nearby residents for several days. In a coordinated effort including the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS), the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) and federal partners, statewide volunteer organizations arrived on site to respond to residents' needs.   In March, in preparation for winter weather caused by Winter Storm Thor, Gov. Tomblin issued a statewide State of Preparedness to give state agencies the authority to mobilize resources to address heavy rainfall, potential flooding, high winds and winter weather. A day later, the governor issued a statewide State of Emergency to combat snow and icy conditions, as well as significant flooding to ensure the safety of residents across the state.   As recommended by the After Action Review following the 2014 chemical leak, the state created an official Facebook page for residents to receive real-time response updates directly from agencies responding to the event.
In July, Gov. Tomblin welcomed 24 governors and their families to The Greenbrier for the 2015 National Governors Association Summer Meeting. This meeting marked the state's first time to host the nation's governors in more than a half century. Over the weekend, Gov. Tomblin had the opportunity to sit down with governors from across the country and work together to identify innovative solutions to problems faced by many states, including federal transportation funding, efforts to combat substance abuse, unique approaches to economic development and other areas of interest.
This September, Gov. Tomblin took the a significant step forward in the fight against substance abuse with the launch of 844-HELP4WV,  a statewide 24-hour substance abuse help line, designed to provide those struggling with substance abuse with resources and information about available treatment and recovery services in their local communities. The governor also launched a new brochure detailing 150 service providers in every region of the state. This brochure is available online and at local courthouses, hospitals, schools, churches, DHHR offices and libraries in all 55 counties.
"Substance abuse is a heartbreaking problem individuals and families across West Virginia face every day," Gov. Tomblin said. "As your governor, I've made the fight against substance abuse a centerpiece of my administration, and I was proud to take our efforts to the next level by offering residents the opportunity to call for help, overcome their addiction, and return to their families, communities and workplaces. We're already seeing great success. Since September, the call line has connected more than 600 people with the resources they need to begin the road to recovery."   In October, Gov. Tomblin welcomed President Barack Obama and Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell, a native West Virginian, to the Mountain State for the President's community forum on substance abuse.   "I was pleased to welcome President Obama to West Virginia," Gov. Tomblin said. "His visit not only allowed us to not only bring the troubling issue of substance abuse to the forefront for both federal and state leaders, but also highlight the collective efforts happening in towns and communities across West Virginia to put an end to substance abuse and connect people who are struggling with the treatment and services they need to overcome their addiction.
"A few weeks later, I traveled to Martinsburg to host my Substance Abuse Summit, a comprehensive review of West Virginia's efforts to combat substance abuse problems in the Mountain State. The event included an overview of programs and initiatives in place - both on a state and local level - to fight this problem and put those struggling with substance abuse in contact with the resources and services they need to begin the road to recovery.   "Since becoming governor, I've worked to tackle the substance abuse epidemic that has touched the lives of many West Virginians and adversely affected many West Virginia communities," Gov. Tomblin said. "This Summit helped us bring together a diverse panel of speakers to share their experiences, struggles and accomplishments in the fight against substance abuse. I'm confident we will continue to work together in the coming year to identify more ways we can enhance our efforts to create a brighter future for generations to come."
In October, Gov. Tomblin joined Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolfe and Ohio Lt. Governor Mary Taylor in Morgantown for the landmark Tri-State Shale Summit, a first-of-its-kind gathering that brought together business, non-profit and government leaders from all three states. The Summit focused on cooperation when possible, marketing the Appalachian Basin as a region to compete in the worldwide energy economy to secure the downstream jobs likely to follow development of the Marcellus and Utica shales.   Also this fall, Gov. Tomblin announced that West Virginia plans to submit a plan for the state to comply with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan, while continuing the legal fight against the federal rule.   "I'd prefer we start working this now so that when the time comes, we have an initial plan in place. By submitting this initial proposal, we'll have two additional years and the flexibility we need to complete a final plan. If the EPA feels the state's plan does not meet its standards, we have at least developed a starting point that gives us the opportunity to work toward a proposal that balances the environmental protection we all support with the economic growth and development we must maintain."  
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