Elected officials face busy agendas
Both West Virginia Senate and House of Delegates members representing Tucker and Barbour counties will have their hands full this year.
In the House, Mary Poling in District 47 and Randy Smith in District 53 spoke to the Inter-Mountain about the issues on which they will be focusing in 2013. Poling’s focus, as it has been in past years, will be primarily on education.
“I am interested in the education audit and (I want) to improve student learning,” she said.
The West Virginia Educational Efficiency Audit was completed last year by Public Works LLC, and their report can be found on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s website, www.governor.wv.gov.
The audit discusses several ways in which the West Virginia educational system can be improved, Poling said. It is that document which she, and other delegates, will be referencing this year when education is brought to the table.
Poling was quick to mention, however, that the audit is not the only factor in education reform.
“I don’t think the audit should drive all our decisions,” she said.
Tucker and Barbour counties are unique because they are small, Poling said. Due to their size, tax dollars are used in ways that differ from larger, more affluent counties.
For instance, transportation of kids from their homes to schools consumes a lot of resources. Kids can grow up in areas not immediately adjacent to their schools, so the time and distance to reach them can be great.
A lot of money is spent on transportation, Poling said, and that spending takes away from other areas that need funding, such as technology.
“Using digital resources can be a challenge in the home and school,” Poling said.
She said education is moving more into the digital age. The use of electronic textbooks is on the rise, but kids need to have access at home and in the classroom.
Poling said she will be working to improve access to electronic resources.
In addition, she wants to extend learning time for all students and generate more vocational learning for kids in middle school.
This will be Poling’s seventh term as a delegate.
Smith, though, is fresh on the legislative scene. This will be his first term in the House, representing Tucker and Preston counties.
“The No. 1 thing on my list is to do what it takes to generate business,” he said. “The state needs to become more business-friendly.”
Smith spoke about infrastructure and the tourism industry. He said the continuing construction of Corridor H will make the area more attractive, both to businesses and tourists.
One can feed into the other, he said. As tourists visit the area in greater numbers, more people move to the area for stays that are measured in years, not weeks.
On the job front, Smith said the coal industry is hard to keep going and other types of businesses must make up for any employment losses. He said plastic manufacturing, the creation and molding of various plastic products, is a burgeoning industry that he sees potential.
Any industry that moves into the area, though, will want to benefit from a progressive tax code, Smith said.
“(The West Virginia) tax structure needs to be more attractive,” he said.
He said a tax code that is business-friendly does as much to support industry as physical location and proximity to large populations.
Smith also said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is a concern for 2013.
“It’s really going to be a burden on the state,” he said.
More people will be placed on Medicare as part of the PPACA, he said, and businesses will feel it in their wallets.
Concerning education, Smith said he wants to see more flexibility for individual schools to create their own yearly schedules. He said a single set of rules for every county in West Virginia doesn’t allow for individual needs.
Like Poling, Smith said he supports more vocational training for students. Not every student goes to college. He said it’s important to provide students with a variety of educational avenues.
Overall, Smith is determined to enter the House with a mindset that exudes cooperation.
“I want to go into it with an open mind,” he said.
Sen. Bob Williams in District 14 represents all of Tucker, Taylor, Barbour and Pendleton counties as well as parts of Mineral, Grant and Monongalia. This will be Williams’ second year in the Senate.
Similar to Smith, Williams is determined to create jobs.
“(I) want to look to create jobs in West Virginia,” he said.
Small businesses are especially important, he added. They have been helped recently by lower corporate net income and business franchise taxes.
Williams said those two taxes have gone down in recent years and he would like to see them continue to stay low.
He said the Legislature is necessary to create infrastructure that will aid the creation of buildings which, in turn, support incoming businesses.
Gas lines, water lines, sewer lines and Internet wiring are among the types of infrastructure needed to support businesses in the area.
“We are working with service providers to get access and high speed (Internet),” he said.
The biggest challenge Williams said he would face this year is the issue of education reform. He said Tomblin’s audit has pointed out that educational boards need attention if they are going to be made more efficient.
“The Legislature will look at how to make that happen,” he said.
Legislation that is carrying over from the previous year includes the protection of senior citizens and agriculture updates.
Senior citizens are often targeted for financial exploitation, Williams said.
Laws were passed last year that allowed financial institutions to report exploitation to local prosecutors. He said he will be keeping an eye on any improvements that can be made to further help senior citizens’ welfare.
Concerning agriculture, Williams said livestock regulations are long due for updates. He said the ways that livestock are handled is markedly different from the past, citing improvements in technology.
Contact Casey Houser by email at email@example.com.