By LEAH NESTOR
Times West Virginian
FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice spoke about his concerns of West Virginia’s own “China Syndrome” at Fairmont State University as part of his Save Our State (S.O.S.) tour.
“It’s a China Syndrome. You ever heard of that before? Where you have a total meltdown and you can’t stop it,” he asked the crowded conference room.
He explained the state’s finances are significantly worse than he expected when campaigning.
“It’s way worse than what I could have ever dreamed it could be,” Justice stated. “We are in a mess beyond belief that you can’t possibly even have an idea how bad bad is.”
He also stated that he did not create the problems with the budget.
“We had people in responsible positions that all they did was just kick the can down the road and let the situation get worse and worse and worse, and we are where we are,” he explained.
He mentioned the ways Republicans are suggesting to cut expenses are outdated and lethal to the health of the state.
“I’ve looked everywhere, every day being able to do something that makes us more efficient without crippling or cutting into the bone or slowing the heart rate where the patient will never get up out of the bed,” he described.
According to his handout of proposed budget cuts, without the passage of revenue measures, at least six colleges and community colleges would lose 100 percent of their funding, including Pierpont Community & Technical College and FSU.
Other considered cuts are to the tobacco-free program and Department of Veterans Assistance. All of this is to meet the deficit the state is experiencing in the amount of $500 million. Justice said these cuts will cost West Virginia 3,000 jobs.
“If we do any of that, what’s going to happen? More people are going to leave. Revenues are going to go down. As more people leave and revenues go down, the hole is still there, so there’s got to be something else taken away. It makes no sense,” he explained of the extreme budget cuts.
However, he said he has a more responsible plan to resolve the budget and create jobs.
While he does plan to cut $50 million, he is also proposing health and wealth initiatives.
His better-health initiative is to tax sugary drinks at one cent per ounce and cigarettes at 50 cents per pack, generating a little more than $132 million. The handout also shows an alcohol tax, Workers’ Compensation redirect and an elimination of general revenue transfer to road fund for $86.5 million. He will tax wealthy West Virginians (those who make more than $200,000). The handout also shows a Businesses for Better West Virginia tax at .00075 percent to generate $80.4 million.
“The only way out that I can see is to try to come up with a way where everybody pulls the rope, everybody,” Justice said. “Businesses, you, wealthy people, all of us pull the rope to try to get out of the mess.”
He also plans to increase the consumer sales tax to 6.25 percent to gain $46.5 million.
Justice proposed a way to create new jobs immediately in doubling the road-maintenance fund to $300 million.
He said this plan would create immediate jobs, unbelievable access to the state and great opportunity.
Some ways to provide for this funding is to increase turnpike tolls to $4 and offer EZ-Passes at $8. However, he also wants to lower the proposed gas tax increase from 10 cents down to 4.5 cents.
His budget cuts include 100 percent funding cut to cultural and history and wvnet. An increase he plans to include in the expenditure is an $808 raise to teachers.
After the presentation, FSU President Dr. Maria Rose said Justice made some valid points.
“It’s limited what one individual can do. … I hope the Legislature will work with him and find a compromise that will be acceptable to both the legislators and the governor,” Rose said.
See more from the Times West Virginian