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Lees, Wise agree on CorridorH, little else

by Shawn Gainer

STAFF WRITER

Rep. Bob Wise and Jim Lees, the contenders in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, agree on a few issues but have marked differences on others.

Both said Friday they unambiguously support the completion of Corridor H, as well as road projects in general.

Lees said he believes West Virginians are "maxed out" on taxation, and the only solution for the state's revenue problems is economic growth.

"I've said repeatedly that people cannot afford any more tax increases, and the state is broke -- that's the problem," Lees said.

"Eleven years ago, Gaston Caperton raised taxes over $400 million. That was supposed to be the tax increase to end all tax increases,"Lees said.

"It was supposed to help build the economy, but look at where we've gone while the rest of the country has enjoyed years of growth. Raising taxes would make the economy even worse."

Wise said he would not enact any "significant tax increases" other than a smokeless tobacco tax and a tax on gray video poker machines.

"The gray machine tax would go to a scholarship program for West Virginia students," Wise said. "If it would become possible, I would like to eliminate the food tax."

Lees said he differs sharply with Wise on the PEIA issue.

"Wise has told teachers, 'I'm going to give you a raise and fix PEIA.' He can do that and not raise taxes? Who is kidding who?" Lees said. "The governor has to be prepared to say 'no' to most special interests. I'm not going to let that program go bankrupt, no matter that some politicians are afraid to face the truth."

In response, Wise said he would not rule out increases in premiums, deductibles and changes in the prescription coverage formula to save the PEIAprogram, which faces a $162 million shortfall.

"We have to make a very serious attempt to solve the problem. But to have a solution, you have to get it passed," Wise said. "We have to get all parties to the table."

On the issue of health care and prescription costs, Lees said a congressional solution is needed, but he added the state could help low-income seniors through volume discount purchasing and a limited Medicaid buy-in program.

Wise said he would like the state to negotiate purchases on behalf of CHIP participants, seniors, public employees and the uninsured. Also, Wise said he would like to allow low-income workers to buy into Medicaid and expand the CHIP program.

Wise and Lees also stated differing views on school safety and gun control.

Lees said student and parental participation in school affairs is the building block of safety. He also contends that the safety issue cannot be separated from gun control.

"I think law-abiding citizens have the right to own firearms, but the government has a right to do background checks, particularly at weekend gun shows."

Lees said Wise voted against the Brady Bill and a ban on assault weapons as a congressman.

Wise said he voted in favor of instant background checks, voluntary trigger locks to be distributed at the point of sale, and increased penalties for using guns in crimes.

"Guns are serious issues, but the real problem is what makes kids think it's OK to pick up a gun," Wise said. "We have thousands of gun laws on the books and the key is enforcing them."

Wise added he supports a statewide safe schools hotline and school safety report cards.

Staff writer Shawn Gainer can be reached at 626-1442.

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