By JOHN MARK SHAVER
The Exponent Telegram
FAIRMONT, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice brought his Save Our State tour to Marion County on Thursday, speaking at Fairmont State University about potential solutions to the state’s budget crisis.
Speaking in a packed conference room in the Falcon Center, Justice said that he, unlike other politicians, has little to gain personally from elected office.
“I really, truly, don’t want a thing,” Justice said. “Here’s what politicians can gain: They can gain access. They can gain financially. They can gain in ego. They can gain in status. What part of that does Jim Justice need? None of it.”
“I’m going to tell you as straight as I can possibly tell you that we are in a mess beyond belief, and you can’t possibly even have any idea how bad, bad is,” Justice said.
“I’m looking everywhere every day to find something that makes us more efficient without crippling and cutting into the bone or slowing the heart rate of the patient to where the patient will never get out of bed,” he said. “The only way out that I can see is where everybody pulls the rope. Everybody. Business, you, wealthy people. All of us. Then, that will put us on a pathway to doing greatness.”
Among other things, the governor’s revised budget plan would implement a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks and raise the cigarettes tax by 50 cents a pack.
The road construction part of his revised budget plan would lower a previously proposed gas tax increase from 10 cents to 4.5 cents a gallon.
But it would raise West Virginia Turnpike tolls by $2 per toll, instead of the $1 previously proposed. And it would keep a previously proposed increase in Division of Motor Vehicles license fees from $30 to $50.
The extra revenue would be used to finance about $2.8 billion in road bonds, providing funding for highway construction projects that Justice said would create nearly “immediate” 50,000 jobs.
“If we do any of that, what’s going to happen?” Justice asked. “More people are going to leave. Revenues are going to go down. And 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. … All (the government) did was kick the can down the road and let the situation get worse and worse and worse.”
The governor said that regardless of background, every state resident is affected by the budget crisis and must unite to make for a better West Virginia.
“We have the opportunity to do something unbelievable, and it’s right at our fingertips,” Justice said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a Republican or a Democrat or an Independent — we need to unify.”
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