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House 32nd, 36th candidates eye Marcellus revenue

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia should tap growing tax revenues from natural gas production in the Marcellus Shale to pay for roads, bridges, schools and water and sewer plants, candidates for the House of Delegates 32nd and 36th districts said Tuesday.

Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha, said the state should set up a "future fund" to pay for schools and infrastructure projects.

"We need new schools," said Guthrie, a Kanawha City resident who's running in the 36th District. "We need more bridges. We need more roads."

Robin Holstein, a Republican running for one of three seats in the 36th, said such improvements would spur economic development in West Virginia.

"We need to bring back businesses and build a strong foundation and tax base for the state," said Holstein, who lives in Diamond.

Stevie Thaxton, another GOP candidate in the same race, said the state must "drastically" reduce personal property taxes.

"The tax burden really needs to be lightened up," said Thaxton, who lives in Alum Creek. "People are just struggling to make ends meet, and there's no help coming down the line."

Steve Sweeney, a South Charleston Republican in the 36th District race, said 47 percent of the average West Virginian's total income goes toward taxes and fees. He sees economic development as a way to decrease the tax burden on individuals.

"We need to find a way to attract every bit of revenue we can," he said. "The more you can bring into the state, the more revenues."

Delegate Mark Hunt, a 12-year incumbent running in the 36th, said state lawmakers have made sound financial decisions that have put West Virginia in a position to prosper.

Hunt predicted an increase in natural gas industry revenue. He also expects the state's coal industry to rebound, despite recent reports to the contrary, as natural gas prices decrease.

"I see West Virginia as being in the catbird seat," said Hunt, who lives on Charleston's West Side.

Hunt supports increased funding for water and sewer plants as a way to increase economic development and create jobs.

"If we continue to build it, they will come," he said.

Delegate Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, who's running in the 32nd District, said good roads were critical to the state's future.

Staggers suggested the state establish a road use tax that would tax motorists based on the number of miles they drive on West Virginia roads each year. The mileage tax would be collected at mandatory vehicle inspections each year, she said.

Staggers, who opposes a gasoline tax increase, serves as chairwoman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, and also sits on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.

The House 32nd and 36th district candidates, who met with Gazette editors Tuesday, also spoke about finding ways to decrease West Virginia's high school dropout rate.

Delegate Danny Wells, D-Kanawha, an incumbent running in the 36th District, said more students should be encouraged to enroll in vocational and technical schools.

"It's a wonderful outlet for people who can't handle regular classroom work," said Wells, who lives in Charleston.

But Thaxton, an electrician, said many students take vocational classes to avoid more-rigorous high school courses.

"A lot of kids are getting cheated," he said.

Holstein said many high school students don't know they can secure high-paying jobs, such as chemical operator positions, with only a two-year community college degree.

"I don't think we're showing these jobs to students," Holstein said. "We don't steer children to the trades anymore."

Staggers suggested that schools offer a "personal development" course to teach students how to be good citizens.

"They would teach this is what is expected of you as a human being," Staggers said. "They would teach them to be citizens of the world and how they fit in."

Also running in the 32nd District are incumbent Democrats Dave Perry and John Pino, as well as Mountain Party candidate Tighe Bullock. The district has three seats.

The 32nd District covers Fayette County, part of Raleigh County and about a thousand residents in eastern Kanawha County. The 36th District includes parts of South Hills, Kanawha City, Charleston's West Side and eastern Kanawha County.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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