By Summer Wallace-Minger
State Treasurer John Perdue stopped at the Weirton Area Senior Center Thursday afternoon to discuss his campaign for governor.
Perdue proposed to harness revenues from the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling to address improvements in infrastructure and education. He also spoke about the importance of reducing utility costs and providing prescription drug assistance. Perdue said utility companies should have to justify rate increases through system improvements or job creation.
"We'll get these foxes out of the hen house at the utility commission," he said. "There's no reason we should be paying the bills we are paying when we are the energy state and we are keeping the lights on throughout the country."
Perdue also pledged to work with the AARP to expand a helpline for prescription assistance, stating it was a good program and he wanted to extend prescription and utility help to seniors.
Perdue also proposed expanding loan opportunities to small businesses, stating that small business growth will create more jobs, and those employees will create more economic opportunities by renting or buying homes and spending money within the state.
"Education is so important to West Virginia's future," said Perdue. "It opened up so many doors of opportunity for me."
Perdue proposed establishing broadband Internet capabilities throughout the state and assigning students laptop computers so teachers can communicate and help students with homework after the school day.
"We can't continue to blame teachers for everything that goes wrong," he said.
He added the state needed to attract more qualified teachers to rural areas by offering to pay their student loans if teachers committed to teaching five years in a rural district. He proposed the program would be funded through natural gas revenues.
"We need to provide teachers with the funds and tools they need to do their jobs and stop bogging them down with the paperwork and bureaucracy that's preventing them from doing those jobs," he said.
Perdue said he proved his leadership ability through 14 years as the state treasurer, in which he balanced the budget, kept the state in the black and built a high bond rating.
"While other states are looking to raise these taxes and cut this and that, we are balancing the budget, every year, every month and every day," Perdue said.
He also pointed to $100 million of unclaimed property returned by the treasurer's office and the Smart 529 program, in which families have invested billions of dollars for their children's education and for which they will receive tax credit.
"They said it (Smart 529) couldn't be done, but we got it done," said Perdue. "I'm not running for governor because I want to get my portrait on a wall in the capitol, I'm running because I want to change the future of West Virginia."
He added job creation was vital to keeping young people in the state, adding his own daughter considered a move to Florida, where she estimated she could earn another $15,000 a year doing the same job.
"I don't want to visit my grandchildren in North Carolina or Florida," he said. "I want to visit them in West Virginia."
Perdue said the state could no longer depend on earmarks like those the late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd obtained.
"(The federal government) is so far in debt, I don't know how they are going to get out of it," Perdue said. "God has blessed us with another gold mine - the Marcellus Shale."
Perdue said the natural gas industry had the potential to generate $7 billion dollars, and the state needs to plan for the future by securing part of those dollars for infrastructure, health care and educational needs while protecting the environment. He pointed to Alaska's tax rebate program, funded by crude oil, as good management of natural resources.
In addition to revenue, Perdue said the industry had the potential to bring jobs to the state, but the appropriate training had to be provided.
"We don't want to have out-of-state people come to West Virginia and take these jobs and take that money somewhere else," he said.
(Wallace-Minger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)