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Justice hopes to avoid tax hikes, additional budget cuts


Herald-Dispatch of Huntington

Justice answered questions during his first news conference since being elected governor on Nov. 8, as his staff participated in transition and policy-informing meetings with experts from throughout the state at the Charleston Civic Center.

Justice answered questions about the budget and how transition committee members were selected as well as his access to Republican President-elect Donald Trump.

When asked how he would address the state’s projected $400 million budget deficit for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, 2017, Justice said he hadn’t had the opportunity to closely examine the state’s budget, but he was eager to do so.

“We’ve got to scrub all the financials in every way and see really where we stand,” Justice said. “We haven’t really had the opportunity to do that yet. Then, that will lead us to where we need to go. You can’t get out of the hole until you know where you are in the hole.”

Justice said he felt revenue from coal severance taxes would improve “significantly and quickly,” but said it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the estimated shortfall.

During the interim legislative session earlier this month, Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss said the budget has significant structural holes that need to be addressed, and Justice responded by saying everyone was looking for a way to patch them.

“It’s people that are thinking outside the box,” Justice said. “I don’t want to take credit for things, but I’m an outside-the-box guy. I’ve really got people motivated to think differently than they’ve thought before.”

Before meeting with the media, Justice sought to motivate the academic, legal, medical and other experts working at the Civic Center Thursday, and he told them he felt that the group was making a lot of progress in addressing the hopes of West Virginia residents.

“I’m going to tell you the way to feel it,” Justice said. “If you were on an airliner and you’re flying, and it’s a clear night and you look and as far as you can see, there’s lights everywhere, especially if you’re close enough to a city or cities, and you think, ‘All of that is West Virginia.’ All those lights are us, and you have the ability, through me, you have the ability to impact and touch all those lights and all those lives.”

On other issues, Justice said he and his staff assembled the committees, which were co-chaired by Marshall University Provost and Senior Vice President for Academics Gayle Ormiston and West Virginia University Provost Joyce McConnell.

Justice said his team received recommendations, and he reviewed every person who ended up being named to the committees.

“I’m soliciting all the brain power I can solicit to bring the ideas,” Justice said. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve said it many times: Republican, Democrat, independent – it does not matter to me. So, what we want to do is the best for West Virginia and get ourselves out of this mess and get ourselves to where we deserve to be.”

Justice also said he wanted to bring back jobs to West Virginia, noting he had a direct line to President-elect Trump and was hopeful that relationship would lead to more support from the federal government.

“I do believe for good or bad, I have a real pathway for the presidency now to the standpoint of picking up the phone, calling the Trump family, talking to them and asking them to help in this and that, and they’ll answer the phone,” Justice said. “That being said, I think we’re going to get help from the federal government. West Virginia has so many opportunities. It’s unbelievable. We have a situation right in front of us that we can really do some good.”

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