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Wise's plans draw widely mixed reviews

by Jennifer Biller

STAFF WRITER

Gov. Bob Wise's proposals outlined in Wednesday's State of the State address were met with mixed reactions throughout the state.

Wise received high marks from officials for his commitment to education and health care, while Republicans criticized his plan's dependency on tax revenue from legalizing video gambling machines.

Educators applauded the Governor's proposal for a $1,000 salary increase for teachers effective Jan. 1, 2002.

Although the amount falls short of what the union was hoping for, it is understandable due to the budget problems, said Judy Hale, president of the West Virginia Federation of Teachers.

Wise's education proposals call for funding higher education grants for low-income students; a $2,500 bonus to teachers who become nationally certified, and funding the PROMISE scholarship program for students by legalizing and taxing video lottery machine payouts.

"Clearly the Governor seems to have an appreciation for the job that teachers do every day, and the impact that they have on the lives of our children," Hale said.

"We are extremely pleased he has made such a commitment to education in his first legislative session," she said.

The biggest area of concern for Republicans is Wise's plan to legalize video lottery machines and use the tax on payouts as a source of funding, said Sen. Vic Sprouse, minority leader of the Senate.

"So much of the Governor's agenda relies so heavily on gray machine money," he said. "I couldn't help to be struck by the fact that most, if not all, of the Governor's new initiatives will be obtained on the backs of addicted gamblers throughout the state."

The topic of legalizing the machines will be a big debate in the Legislature, Sprouse added.

Wise's initiatives for health care received a thumbs up from the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, according to John Law, communications director.

Expanding and marketing the Children's Health Insurance Program, enacting a new Patients Bill of Rights, taxing smokeless tobacco, developing a prescription drug benefit plan and lowering the blood alcohol limit from .10 to .08 were all outlined in Wise's oration.

"Everybody here thought it was an excellent speech that addressed the serious health care issues," Law said. "He wants to provide every citizen with health care and he realizes that it's a good economic development tool to keep people healthy."

Staff writer Jennifer Biller can be reached at 626-1449 or jbiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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