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Is it really a Wise move?

Gov. Bob Wise is a shrewd politician. He's served in state or national legislatures for the past 21 years, so he knows how to draw attention to issues he believes are key to his agenda.

On Wednesday, during the governor's State of the State address, we saw an expert in action.

For the first time since probably the first Gaston Caperton administration, the governor had his proposed legislation mapped out and formalized on the first day of the session.

And Wise's proposals include many worthwhile ideas.

He wants to provide scholarships for all state students who perform to acceptable standards, as well as those who may not qualify for other types of financial assistance because their parents make too much money.

He wants to raise teachers' pay $1,000, and give them a $2,500 yearly bonus if they become nationally certified. He wants to give other school personnel $756 raises.

He wants to issue capital improvement bonds to improve school facilities and add $750,000 to the budget to fund character education. His hopes are for West Virginia to be known as "The Education State," a worthy goal.

He announced those efforts as ways to improve the state's economic future, by ensuring a well-trained workforce. And then he pulled at many Mountain State residents' heartstrings when he said his goal was to keep our sons and daughters from leaving the state by providing them with a sound economic future at home.

But while the governor's hopes are near and dear to many of us, I wonder if his game plan to achieve this success will be supported.

Do we really want to gamble the future of the state on video lottery? Gov. Wise's plan to legalize video poker machines and use the proceeds to pay for many of his initiatives is one state lawmakers should scrutinize.

While the governor says this will not expand gambling in the state, but actually limit it, his plan will legalize 9,000 gambling machines, in addition to video lottery machines already legal at various dog and horse tracks around the state.

During his campaign, Wise said regulating the machines was necessary because of their quick spread to the Mountain State after South Carolina banned them.

Have we looked long and hard at why South Carolina banned the machines?

Because there were major problems, and studies indicated that legalized gambling did not reap the promised benefits.

It took South Carolina nearly 14 years to realize that. Will West Virginia proceed without at least studying its neighbor to the south?

Let's hope not. We can't afford our lawmakers to get all caught up in Wise's rhetoric and overlook history. We can't afford for them to get caught up in the aspect of rewarding our deserving teachers and state employees by possibly selling the state down the river long term for short-term gain.

There is the thought that Gov. Wise hopes to parlay his increased education budget into a more prosperous future -- a future that wouldn't be so dependent on gambling. But there is also a fear that once the door to legalized gambling is thrown further open, it will spread. Will casino gambling be far behind?

On Wednesday, Gov. Wise showed the intelligence, fortitude, work ethic and charisma it takes to be an outstanding leader. That's not surprising. He's a veteran of the show.

But we can only hope that he also has the patience to step back and look long and hard at this gambling issue. It's a big risk. Is it worth taking?

John G. Miller is managing editor of The Clarksburg Exponent and Telegram newspapers. He can be reached at 626-1473 or by e-mail at jmiller@exponent-telegram.com.

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