CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- They don't know when their names will be on the ballot, but potential candidates for governor are eager to share their ideas with voters.
Five gubernatorial hopefuls participated Friday in a panel called "So you want to be governor?" at The Associated Press' annual Legislative Lookahead conference in South Charleston: state Sens. Clark Barnes and Brooks McCabe, former Secretary of State Betty Ireland, state Treasurer John Perdue and Secretary of State Natalie Tennant.
West Virginians don't yet know when they'll vote for their next governor. Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin is serving as acting governor since Joe Manchin joined the U.S. Senate.
Tomblin, a Logan County Democrat, believes an election can wait until 2012, when the next general election is scheduled. He also plans to run for the position.
On Tuesday, the West Virginia Supreme Court is set to hear arguments on a pair of legal challenges seeking an election before next year.
The five participants Friday said West Virginia's next leader will have a tough job, with fiscal woes topping the list.
"I really think we are in a crisis situation down the road with our budget," said Perdue, a Democrat, who joined the panel discussion by telephone.
Perdue said he would focus on education, vocational training and research, if elected governor.
While the state has a financial surplus now, "we have got to have a crisis mentality," McCabe said. The Kanawha County Democrat wants West Virginia to overhaul the way it delivers public services, looking for savings and redirecting that money to salaries, benefits and improved services.
McCabe also wants the Legislature to consider raising tobacco taxes. At 55 cents per pack, West Virginia's cigarette taxes rank 44th in the nation.
"Our wellness is horrible and we have the lowest tobacco taxes," McCabe said.
Barnes, a Randolph County Republican, said state government must be more efficient. Some agencies have overlapping responsibilities, he said.