Editor's Note: Through May 4, The Register-Herald will publish a daily story featuring in-depth interviews we conducted with candidates seeking the office of Governor of West Virginia. Each of the 16 people who filed were issued an invitation to appear before our editorial board, and 14 of those came to Beckley to meet with us and discuss some of the key issues in West Virginia. The stories will appear in the order in which the candidates were interviewed. Today's story focuses on Democrat candidate John Perdue, of Charleston.
1 -- It certainly appears that Marcellus shale regulation will remain a major topic of interest for the next several years. What are the key features that you see need to be included in West Virginia law in order to best serve the interests of all the parties involved?
I think, first of all, we have to have strong regulations. We have to have strong controls of this next gold mine that God has blessed us with in this state. I believe we don't get the cart before the horse. We have to have a long-term plan for the Marcellus shale. After we get the strong controls in place, we then have to plan how we are going to use this revenue, how we are going to plan for the future. I believe there are three things we need to look at. One is we need to realize "big daddy" is no longer here. The money is not going to come down from the federal government for infrastructure in this state, road, sewage, technology, infrastructure -- whatever type of infrastructure it might be. I think we need to take part of that Marcellus shale and designate it to the infrastructure of this state so that we can bond and plan how we are going to complete Corridor H, how we are going to complete the express highways, the highways we have under construction. What is our plan for that? What is our long term plan for the future of the state? I think that is a priority that we have to look at for that funding.
Number two is I really believe it is time we take some of that money, set it aside for the taxpayers of this state in a rebate-type mechanism and invest that money long-term and rebate a certain portion back of that natural gas fine for the state.
Number three is the OPEB debt of the state, which is tremendous. We have to take a look at how we designate a revenue source on how we pay that debt down. If we pay that debt down, all West Virginians benefit from that, and I believe if we are able to do that and designate a certain portion of that to pay the debt of the state down it's just like a house payment. We got to decide when we buy a house, whether we do a 10-year or a 30-year house payment, and we need to do the same thing with the OPEB debt. We have to step up to the plate, we have to swallow the pill and figure out how long we are going to take to pay it off and what is going to be the revenue source to pay that off. I think that's a possibility we can do that, and we should take a strong look at that.
Those three things are very important for us to do with the Marcellus shale, but I think the most important thing is that we've got to make sure that this, is in the state of West Virginia is an investment and that we cross the t's and dot the i's in extracting the natural gas in West Virginia, and we don't end up with a pollution of our natural water systems, our precious water resources.
2 -- As the debt of OPEB continues to rise, what steps need to be taken to stem the tide and begin reversing the trend?
We have to take some other looks at how we are going to reverse that. Maybe we need to up the retirement age, do different things to change -- I'm going to take a look at all those things. Those are tough decisions, hard decisions. That's why I tell people all the time, we are at a crossroads in this state. Leadership for the future and experience and knowledge of the state budget, which I have, is critical for the future of the state and how we manage the future of West Virginia. You've got to realize we are running a business. The governor is the CEO of the business, and he's got to make the tough, hard decisions to decide how we pay that off. We've got to make some tough, hard decisions, and I'm willing to take a look at all those. The first thing we have to do is designate the resource we've got to pay it off with. I think that's the bottom line. It's the same problem the federal government has with the federal deficit about how we are going to pay it down. You can cut all you want to, but sooner or later you can't cut any further, and you've got to decide how you pay it off.
3 -- Transportation remains a significant issue, especially in our region. What specifically will you do as governor to try to resolve the funding crisis as it relates to financing new construction and providing for adequate maintenance of our existing roads and bridges?
Our highway system is broke. The Department of Highways is broke. The "Legislature tried to address that this last session. They passed fees at the DMV to put a Band-Aid approach on the problem of fixing the infrastructure and secondary roads. The governor vetoed that bill. I haven't looked at exactly the reasons he did that, but we have to realize we have to start paying our own money. The money is not going to come down from the federal government. So, we have to decide how we are going to do that. We have to find the revenue sources to be able to designate it to the infrastructure of this state. We have to decide in this state.
The Eastern Panhandle and the Northern Panhandle and the southern part of the state and central part of the state are all different. If you go down and sit down with the people of this state and listen to their problems, each section of the state has different problems. We have to decide what the priorities of this state is. What is the priorities of the Eastern Panhandle? Is it to finish Corridor H? Is it to finish Route 9? What is the priorities? Is it build more schools? The population is exploding right now. In the northern part of the state, what are the priorities there? Steel is no longer king in the northern part of the state, but now they're lucky. The Marcellus shale is going to be a major resource for them. What do we do with it? What are our priorities? How do we address those priorities? The central part of the state -- it used to be coal, coal used to be king there. Now it's not because the university is there, the FBI center is there, because of diversification of the technology park there, it has changed. They diversified, they created new jobs, new economy, new types of jobs for that area. The southern part of the state, where I'm from the southern coalfields, coal has been king for 100 years. What's left, 25, 30 years? I don't know. You hear what the numbers are, but what do we do to diversify the economy in West Virginia? Beckley has done well, but if we go a little farther south -- McDowell and some of these counties -- we find that there is no future, I feel for the next generation in those areas if we don't develop the infrastructure, the water and sewer, the highways, the diversification to create new jobs and new economy as coal leaves.
I believe it's critical we put together a long-term plan for every area of the state. We got to quit living from one election to the next election, and that's why I am running for governor. I'm not interested in moving up to Congress or moving up to Senate, or running for any other office other than governor to change West Virginia's future. We have to make some really tough, hard decisions and put in place a 10-, 20-, 30-year plan for the state of West Virginia, because I think the next governor will determine the next generation's future in this state.
I'm very technology-oriented. I modernized the treasury office and brought it into the 21st century. We've got to realize that in this state, we've got to get more broadband and more technology into education. We've go to teach them technology. Kids today have the world in their pocket. If we do not have a laptop in that backpack with their books to take home, there is no reason to carry all those books. They can get those on the Internet. We have to have some communication with the teachers and the parents to have a partnership to change education.
4 -- One of former Gov. Joe Manchin's major platform issues was education reform. While much was discussed, no wide-ranging changes to the way we educate our children have been made in the recent past. What are your plans when it comes to education reform?
I think education reform in this state is going to have to be another long-term thing that you have to address. You've got to figure out what your priorities are in education. I believe all of us know the education system in this state... Most of us feel, the citizens feel, is broken. As I have traveled the state and held town hall meetings, that's what I have been asked all the time: "What are you going to do about the education system in this state?"
I'm very lucky in life, because my brother was very smart. He was pretty much a genius, and the teacher realized how smart he was, and I had parents that had an eighth-grade education. A teacher came to my mom and dad's house and asked, "Do you realize how smart Roger is?" and changed his life by giving him a college prep class in high school and making sure he got a full scholarship to college. In the process, the teacher changed his life but also changed my life and changed three other kids' lives in that family that would have never had an opportunity if there hadn't been a teacher there to recognize how smart my brother was.
What is happening in education all over the state, not just southern West Virginia, any county in the state, you can find a pocket of kids who need help. What's happened is, when I got off the school bus and went home, my mom was waiting on me. I was disciplined, I had to get my homework done, my chores done before I got to go out and play basketball or whatever type of ball I wanted to play. Now, kids come home to an empty house. There is no parent, because they're either a single parent trying to make ends meet, or both parents trying to make ends meet. There's no one to help them get their homework done, they're unprepared the next day, so teachers are left behind trying to catch up with teaching the past lesson plan instead of today's lesson plan. We have to realize that we have to be able to change education. We have to have after-school programs to where we can help kids get tutors, mentors, to be able to get that homework done to be prepared to go to school the next day. Because the parents today, like my parents, are unable to help their kids with the subject matters after a certain period of time. I was lucky because I had a brother five years older sitting at the kitchen table teaching little Johnny, little Jenny and Steven with their homework. He became the teacher and the mentor. We've got to have some kind of after-school programs to help prepare our kids for school the next day. A lot of areas in this state, that's not happening.
We also have to realize we have to attract teachers to this state. I want to start the West Virginia Corps, where we attract teachers out of college, bright teachers out of college, to go into the teaching field, to go into southern West Virginia, McDowell County and Clay County, Calhoun County. Go to these areas that have a hard time attracting teachers and certifications to teach. We will set aside some money, and if you do that, for every year you do that, we will pay back tuition or something back toward what your expenses were in college to do that. You will get a rebate so to speak for being able to teach. Not only will we do that, but it will attract teachers to where they are desperately needed. It will also help in the Eastern Panhandle where teachers are crossing the borders, going across the borders to teach and get a higher pay.
If we can do more locality-type pay and drive the money down to the local area and say, "It's you baby; you take care of it. If you want to pay it in teacher's salaries, or in tools or technology to teach, then you make that decision as the county board of education as to how you want to do that."
We have to make these boards of education more responsible. I don't think the state taking over the board of educations in these counties, if they can not turn that school around in one two years, they are a failure too. Some areas of this state, they have been there five or 10 years, I believe. I don't think that's a victory. We have to change the way we do education. We can't blame the teachers for everything, but we have to have some accountability in the system when we have to be able to make people step up to the plate and cross their t's and dot their i's just like I do in the treasurer's office. If I don't balance the budget, if I lose money, you people are going to be all over me, and I'm accountable. If I'm not, I'm going to be out office. We have to get some accountability in the system and make sure teachers realize when they go in the system, there is accountability for what you do.
5 -- We are constantly told, and are witnessing every day, the far-reaching impacts of drug abuse. What will you do as governor to address the epidemic, and do you have any specific plans for interdiction efforts?
Well, first of all, I think part of the drug abuse that is happening is because there is no parenthood after school. Kids are going into the neighborhoods. Like I said, they go home into an empty house. Five-year, 10-year old kids are hanging out with kids that are older than them who are teaching them new tricks. They steal their grandma and grandpa's pills and things like that and are out here drug pushing, making a little extra money on the side instead of mowing lawns and stuff like we did. It's called easy money, so, we have to realize we have to have some kind of after-school programs to help with these kids. We just can't keep building jails after jails and filling them up. People that end up with a drug problem and end up in the jails system learn new tricks in the jail system. When they get out, they move up to a higher crime. We got to figure out a system of how we take an alcoholic or something like and put them into the system to make a difference.
It's a little bit of an investment, but we are putting a tremendous amount of investment in now to the prison system. It's a system that is not going to help solve the problem. We also have to realize the State Police system needs to be updated; we have to get into the 21st century. When you've got a population like you've got in Raleigh County and you've got two or three state troopers covering the weekend or something like that or covering the night shift, it doesn't work. We've got to invest in that, come up to the standards, put the technology in the system to make it happen.
A good example is we have drug dogs. We have drug dogs, and we invest thousands of dollars in training that dog and make a difference. We send a dog in to do a drug test, the dog gets killed. Well, you can buy a vest for that dog, maybe save that dog, save thousands of dollars in investment. Instead, we think we just train another dog. Well, that costs money. Vests cost a lot less. We give the troopers vests. I think we've got to invest into the system, invest to make a difference.
We've got to send a message to the people who are bringing the drugs into West Virginia. You know Huntington they call "Little Detroit." We've got to send the message "If you come to West Virginia, you're going to jail."
Simple as that. Until we send that message, we are going to have a hard time deterring. We have so many states that border us, it's going to be tough to counteract what is happening.
Please highlight the key points of your gubernatorial platform.
I'd like to start the West Virginia Energy Research Center. We are a natural resource state, and for 100 something years, we haven't had a research trust fund in this state. We are a natural resource state, and if we want West Virginia University, if we want Marshall University, if we want the Dow Research Center, if we want the Technology Research Center in Marion County to be able to survive -- because they aren't going to be able to survive with money from the federal government any longer -- we have to develop a trust fund to be able to work with a private-type board not controlled by politicians to attract the best research people to make the difference in this state.
I think the natural gas is a perfect good example of that because the spinoff jobs from that will happen from that, if we put together a long-term plan to have them stay here, instead of taking the money of out of the state, will create good jobs and economic development. Also, be able to put an educational plan together, whether it's technical or vocational.
Instead of faculty and research people spending half of their time begging industries and others to donate to their research, if we're able to help with that and keep them ahead of the game, they are going to develop that research a lot faster, and it's going to benefit us and the economy and help West Virginia's future tremendously.
I would like to establish the West Virginia Energy Research Center so we'd be able to put a pool of money together to do research in this state that is really critical for the future of this state.
I believe small business is the backbone of this state as I have traveled this state. No one does anything for small business in this state. We hope and pray that we are going to get the Macy's in the Eastern Panhandle or the Toyota in Putnam County. That's icing on the cake. Who's baking the cake in West Virginia? Small businesses. If we don't realize that and be able to grow these small businesses.... I want to establish a loan-type trust fund where we work with banks and small banks of this state to loan out... There businesses right now, that are about to, are critical to the future of a community or whatever, that is about to go under because they can not find that $50,000 loan or that $100,000 loan to keep the business in these crisis times.
If we work with them, we can keep those jobs here or create another job. If you do that with small businesses in this state, the difference is that they stay here, they buy their groceries here, they but their home here, they educate their kids here and it grows West Virginia's economy. We better realize small businesses are the backbone of West Virginia, and we have to develop a program to help them instead of taxing them out of business.
We also have to realize the utility problems in this state. There are big problems with the middle class, the poor in this state. Utility rate hikes in this state are outrageous. Gas prices is outrageous. Food prices are outrageous right now. They are going up, up and up. All that pressure is being put on the middle class and the lower middle class and the poor in this state. How do they survive? I've traveled this state. I've held town-hall meetings. I've listened to people out there. I've listened to phone calls when people call in.
When someone in a trailer out here... And we know what a trailer is, cause a lot of West Virginians and southern West Virginians are living in trailers. They're telling me they are bundling their kids up and putting on their winter clothes so they can turn the heat down to 50 degrees, just enough to keep their water pipes from freezing and so forth, so they can pay their bills. So they can still have money to pay their groceries, which is going up. Gas prices are going up so high, they can hardly make ends meet. We are driving them to the welfare system. Soon, they figure out, "I'm going to go over here; it's cheaper."
We've got to figure out a way to help these people. Utility rates.. when they can make $3.8 billion in profit, when they can make that kind of profit, when they are paying CEOs $7 or $8 million or $14 million a year and tell us we are all this together? That's not the case. It's a very serious people issue out here for the middle class and poor of West Virginia. We don't address that and realize that Public Service Commission, I don't mind saying it, we have the foxes in the hen house. If they want a 10 percent raise, they ask for 20. They know what they are going to get before they get in there.
We've got to put a stop to it. We've got to put it on the table. We've got to look at the books. Tell me you need that money, I'm all for it. I'm all for businesses making money. You tell me you will do economic development in West Virginia with that money, you are going to upgrade the power lines, the substations? Show me what you are going to do with the money, I'll give you the pay increase. If not, we should not be rubber stamping pay rate increase after pay rate increase and letting the money go out of state.
We produce the energy, and we sell it out of state. We pay the high utility rates, and we are driving our citizens to bankruptcy. We need to address those problems, and we all need to be at the table to sit down and say, "How do we solve that problem?"