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West Virginia Governor Jim Justice drives roads plan

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice visited the Parkersburg area Friday to drum up support for his state budget proposal and an aggressive roads program.

Justice visited the State Police Detachment in Parkersburg Friday morning and Friday afternoon traveled to the Waverly Volunteer Fire Department as part of his statewide Save Our State tour.

Justice also announced his office had identified $120 million in special revenue and unused funds to help offset a $123 million deficit in the current budget. In a press release, Justice proposed using about $60 million from special revenue accounts across state government and about $60 million in reappropriated funds and unspent money from the last five years. Those funds would come from the governor’s office, the Legislature, the Offices of the Insurance Commissioner, and other agencies across state government.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice speaks at the Waverly Volunteer Fire Department in Wood County on Friday to drum up support for his state budget proposal and an aggressive roads program. Photo by Michael Erb

Justice briefly mentioned the funds during his presentation Tuesday at the Waverly Volunteer Fire Department, but focused most of his time on laying out the budget proposal he had presented during his State of the State address in February.

Justice reiterated his plan calls for minimal increases in taxes, fees and tolls, but would put billions of dollars into state roadwork, creating 48,000 jobs.

Thomas Smith, secretary of the West Virginia Department of Transportation, said the state has a long list of needed road projects waiting for approval and funding. According to a recent state report, he said, bad roads cost West Virginia drivers more than a billion dollars annually, with about $650 a year per person being paid by rural drivers and urban drivers paying about $1,275 per person. Those costs are in damage to vehicles and lost productivity time due to transportation delays and issues, he said.

“There is a cost of doing nothing. That is a cost you and I are paying now,” he said. “The very modest program that Gov. Justice has proposed for transportation is far, far less, less than $100 per motorist.”

Justice said the state cannot continue to cut programs and services, and finding areas of waste, though important, will not generate enough savings to solve West Virginia’s economic problems.

“You can’t sell potential today. I’ve got to have immediate jobs,” he said. “This will create 48,000 new jobs. Tomorrow. Instant jobs. Good jobs.”

Justice said the roads program would also include a 5 percent “successful bid fee” for contractors, which could generate about $120 million. That money, he said, would go to address the state’s drug epidemic.

“You’ve got to have real money to fix this drug epidemic,” he said.

Legislators have been slow to embrace Justice’s budget plan and have yet approved a budget, which is typically done following the regular session. Justice has placed a “budget clock” on the governor’s web page which is ticking down toward the end of the regular session.

Justice urged those in attendance to put pressure on state legislators.

“You’ve got to call your legislators. You’ve got to get them to move,” he said. “I’m not a king. I can’t do this without them.”

Justice called out those who have opposed the plan.

“If you don’t think that’s a plan, you’ve lost your mind,” he said. “I’ve given you a pathway to really go somewhere. I’ve given you the only pathway we can get there.”

Justice ended on a dire note, warning if the Legislature does not move forward with an aggressive financial plan, more people will leave the state and more revenue will be lost.

“You are going to be in a spiral you cannot get out of,” he said.

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