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Tomblin picks ex-speaker as Revenue chief

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is calling former House Speaker Bob Kiss back into government service, naming him Monday as his new Revenue secretary.

The former Raleigh County lawmaker will head the Cabinet department that oversees both tax collections and budget planning, starting July 1. Jason Pizatella, the governor's legislative director, will act as secretary during the interim. Kiss will succeed Charles Lorensen, who became Tomblin's chief of staff upon last week's return of Rob Alsop to the private sector.

The move reunites Kiss and Tomblin, who was Senate president before becoming West Virginia's chief executive. During the 1990s and until Kiss left the House in 2006, they were among a crop of state leaders who began to focus on tackling state debts and funding gaps. During their joint tenure leading the Legislature, they supported measures shoring up the pension fund for teachers, privatizing the state-run workers' compensation system and gradually cutting taxes on groceries and corporate net income, among other initiatives. Kiss also championed proposals targeting insurance rates and prescription drug costs during his tenure.

Fellow delegates first elected Kiss as speaker in 1997. He had become House Finance chairman in 1993 after first joining the House in 1989. The 55-year-old has practiced tax law, among other areas, at the regional firm of Bowles, Rice -- which Alsop is joining later this month after two and a half years as chief of staff.

"Bob truly understands the intricate finances of state government and the importance of maintaining our state's good fiscal standing for the people of West Virginia," Tomblin said in a written statement citing Kiss' background and legislative service.

The Department of Revenue includes the Lottery Commission, the Alcohol Beverage Control Administration and agencies overseeing the racing industry, insurers and banks and other financial institutions. Kiss' wife, Melinda, is also considered a fiscal guru and is assistant commissioner of finance there.

Kiss's successor as House leader, Speaker Rick Thompson, will also be joining Tomblin's Cabinet. Thompson is expected to take over this month at Veterans Assistance, where Secretary Keith Gwinn is retiring amid health problems. Another former Senate president, Keith Burdette, meanwhile is the governor's Commerce secretary. Like Kiss and Tomblin, they are Democrats.

The recent shuffling follows Tomblin's election in November to a full term. After then-Gov. Joe Manchin's 2010 U.S. Senate victory, Tomblin began acting as governor under the state constitution's vacancy provision before winning a special 2011 election to complete Manchin's unfinished term.


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