By DANYEL VANREENEN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — All state representatives knew West Virginia faced a budget crisis, and many anticipated Governor Jim Justice to announce budget cuts and reform. However, Eastern Panhandle representatives seemed surprised by Justice’s drastic call for tax increases and more state spending.
Delegate Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson, 66, said the budget proposal consisted of $318 million in new spending and a $450.15 million revenue increase through various tax increases throughout the state — including a 10 cent increase in gas tax.
“I believe this is the biggest tax increase on working West Virginians the state has ever seen,” Espinosa said.
Espinosa said he expected the governor to announce budget cuts between $300 and $600 million to remedy the issue. Instead, Espinosa said the state saw Justice depart from the man on the campaign trail.
“He said West Virginians were already taxed too much, but last night he proposed the biggest tax increase in state history,” Espinosa said.
Delegate John Overington, R-Berkeley, 62, said the proposal felt like a betrayal to the people of West Virginia.
“I know there are hard times ahead for the state,” Overington said. “I was hoping to see government downsized instead of taxes increased. This budget would be devastating to the working people of the state.”
Overington said the tax increase would be especially damaging to the Eastern Panhandle where residents could travel to Virginia, Maryland or Pennsylvania for gas and other commodities.
Although Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, 16, was not thrilled with the proposed increases, he said some increase might be necessary to balance the state budget.
“There are a lot of issues to parse out and look at,” Unger said. “Governor Justice laid out a bold plan, and I think there has been a lot of pushback and disappointment from representatives, but what’s their plan? How are they going to propose to fix the massive budget gap?”
Unger said he believes the state simply can’t cut enough to allow for the projected $500 million gap in 2018.
Although Unger said Justice’s plan was a practical and doable plan, he does not necessarily like the proposal.
“We all have to invest in the future of West Virginia,” Unger said. “We can’t continue to take, take, take. It’s time to come together with our proposals and negotiate with each other. We’re all responsible for developing trust and partnership in our state.”
Espinosa said the current 60 day session will be working to bring alternative proposals forward in both the house and senate before being sent to Justice for final approval.
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