By LACIE PIERSON
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Contained within the borders of Cabell and Wayne counties are more than 138,000 West Virginians, including more than 45 public pre-K-12 schools, Marshall University and Mountwest Community and Technical College as well as various publicly supported arts endeavors.
On Wednesday night, a handful of the legislators representing those counties and the people and entities therein said they appreciated Gov. Jim Justice’s sincerity and enthusiasm for the task he’s taken on in his new role, and they shared mixed enthusiasm for some of his proposals in his first State of the State address.
Justice highlighted his plans to make $26.6 million in cuts and generate $450 million in revenue to balance the state’s budget for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, 2017. The state currently is projected to be $500 million short in revenue for fiscal year 2018, and legislators are obligated by the West Virginia Constitution to approve a state budget free of deficit.
She said Wednesday night she appreciated Justice’s good, folksy speaking style, and she was looking forward to reviewing the budget on Thursday.
“He’s a wonderful salesman,” Miller said. “What we heard was $26 million in cuts; $450 million in new taxes; a 2 percent raise for teachers; eliminating the A-F system; eliminating the testing; and to return things to the local level. I receive the budget in the morning. I will start delving into the budget and start really understanding what we have ahead of us.”
Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell, said he was excited to hear Justice’s vision, saying he particularly was encouraged by Justice’s messages for legislators to be bold and aggressive and support teachers and tourism.
“I’m glad to hear the coach is talking about that,” Hornbuckle said. “Being a coach, too, that resonates with me. It’s drawing up plays, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to execute. Obviously, we have to fix the budget, but there are some other things, too, we can take care of in the meantime. If everybody pulls their weight and wants to work together, I don’t think there’s anything that can stop us.”
Del. Chuck Romine, R-Cabell, returned to the legislature following multiple previous terms in the House of Delegates. Romine also was impressed by what he said was Justice’s genuine candor.
“I think the governor has a real touch with people,” Romine said. “He showed he’s really concerned and gave some great, concrete recommendations. He’s an interesting man. He’s been quite successful, and maybe he’s got some things we need to look seriously at.”
“I think he gave a good speech,” Thompson said. “I’m excited to see the budget. I’m going to look at it as soon as we have access to it. I’m eager to see what’s there.”
Del. Kelli Sobonya, R-Cabell, said she was excited Justice was willing to reach across the aisle to “get across the finish line,” as he said in his speech, but she was troubled by his proposals to balance the state’s budget. Sobonya said she also was supportive of Justice’s proposals to increase the penalties for drug trafficking, and she is sponsoring legislation to that point this session.
“I’m only troubled that the candidate Jim Justice said he was against tax increases and against cutting programs,” Sobonya said. “I think now he knows what we’ve been dealing with for the past few years. I think right now there’s a lot to absorb in one hour, and we have a lot of work and challenges ahead of us.”
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