West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III (D) told the Democrat-controlled Legislature Jan.13 that the state's new budget will be "slender," but that West Virginia has weathered the Great Recession better than dozens of other states that suffered deep budget deficits.
"When I look at West Virginia, I see a state of accomplishment, not a state of disarray," Manchin said in his state of the state address. "When I look at West Virginia, I see a state of responsible financial planning, not a state of economic turmoil."
West Virginia's budget has been relatively unscathed by the economic downturn. In December 2009, Manchin projected a $120 million deficit, no small amount, but dwarfed by billion-dollar deficits that challenged other states around the country.
Still, Manchin said the state's prison population and growth rate are unsustainable and proposed a move to streamline the parole system to expand work-release programs and push rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders. He said it would reduce overcrowding and save the state money as well.
Manchin also stressed the economic impact of educating West Virginians, keeping college graduates in the state and attracting new residents. "We can battle job loss by retooling our workforce and by investing in our community and technical colleges," he said. The governor also asked that all four-year and technical colleges freeze tuition for the coming year.
As a large coal-producing state and exporter of electricity, West Virginia will play a significant role in the future of energy production in the U.S, Manchin said. He conceded 2009 was a "tough year for coal" — cap-and-trade proposals have moved ahead in Washington, amid a vigorous push for "green" energy — but Manchin stressed that he would continue to support his state's coal industry, while advancing new ways to use it, and while producing more clean energy, such as wind power.