By February 9, 2017 Read More →

Marion County politicians weigh in on State of the State

By MICHELLE DILLON

Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT, W.Va. —  West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice gave his State of the State address to the West Virginia Legislature on Wednesday night.

In his speech Justice proposed ways to fix the state’s $500 million budget deficit as well as its education, roads and other issues.

Justice proposed tax increases, and explained that he wants to raise the state sales tax by one half of a penny for three years. He also proposed having businesses pay a 0.2 percent tax for three years, increasing Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV) fees to $50 and raise the state gas tax by 10 cents.

Justice discussed increasing the number of toll roads and the amount people pay on toll roads by $1. He also proposed an $8 DMV fee that would let West Virginia residents drive on toll roads for free.

Justice addressed education in his speech, as well. He wants to get rid of unnecessary burecracy in government and put a 2 percent raise for teachers in his budget.

Justice is against school consolidation and thinks there is too much

testing in schools. He said he would also like to get rid of the A through F grading system that is used to evaluate schools in the state.

Justice proposed a tiered severance tax on coal and natural gas. If a company is doing poorly, it would pay less in severance tax. When a company is doing well, it would pay more in severance tax.

Justice also talked about passing legislation to create a tax subsidy to attract furniture, flooring and other manufacturers who use timber to West Virginia.

During his speech, Justice expressed interest in hiring a waste czar to find hidden excess money in the state to help with the budget problem.

Politicians from Marion County were at the State of the State speech and shared their thoughts on Justice’s proposals.

Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion, thought Justice’s speech was different, he said.

“He took a very non-partisan approach,” Caputo said.

Caputo said he will have to see what direction the House and the leadership want to go and the details in regard to Justice’s proposed tax increases to know if he supports them.

The plan that Justice laid out is very bold and sounded very reasonable, Caputo said. He laid out what sounded like an ultimatum to the Legislature that if they don’t do something, the state is heading to harder times.

In the coming days, there will be a lot of discussion in the finance committee about Justice’s proposals, and Caputo said he will have to see what the sentiment is.

Caputo said he is not sure if he supports Justice’s turnpike plan. He will have to see the exact language of the bill, but he does not want to put any more burdens than he has to on the people of West Virginia.

“I did like what he said about our severance taxes,” Caputo said.

“I  am excited about his potential plan to bring furniture manufacturers to West Virginia through a subsidy,” he added, noting the subsidy could bring a lot of jobs to the state.

The Republican leadership of the Legislature will have to decide if they will go forward with any of Justice’s proposals, and then the Legislature will be able to have a free and open debate, Caputo said.

Caputo wants to know what the people think about Justice’s ideas.

“I want to hear from my constituents on what they have to say about those things,” he said.

Delegate Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, said, “It was a very unique speech, straightforward.”

The House Finance Committee will be looking at Justice’s budget at 9 a.m. today. The committee will have to look at Justice’s proposals and discuss things like raising the state sales tax and DMV fees, she said.

Longstreth said she understands Justice’s proposals.

“You have to sometimes spend money to get going,” she said.

Longstreth said Justice said a lot of good things about education and thinks teachers will be happy with some of his proposals, like eliminating bureaucracy and giving teaches a raise.

The Legislature will have to see if it can make the teachers’ raise work because the state is in a deficit.

Longstreth completely agrees with Justice about getting rid of the A through F grading system used to evaluate schools, she said.

“Why are we grading the schools?” she said. “Let’s grade the students.”

The Legislature has to get down to basics this session, she said. It needs to figure out how to deal with the $500 million deficit and decide if it is going to keep making cuts. The state can’t use anymore of the rainy day fund to fix the budget, otherwise its bond rating will lower, she said.

“Where do we go?” Longstreth said. “I guess we’ll find out when we all put our heads together and figure out what is feasible for the people of West Virginia.”

In order to do this, the Legislature has to stop being partisan and work together because these are serious times, she said.

Delegate Guy Ward, R-Marion, thought Justice’s speech was interesting, and that overall it was a good speech, he said.

Ward was disappointed in some of the things Justice proposed, he said.

Justice promised during his campaign he wouldn’t raise taxes and then during his speech he proposed raising taxes, Ward said.

“It threw everybody for a curve,” he said. “He may be right. I don’t know.”

The DMV fee increase that Justice proposed is not that big of a deal, he said, but the gas tax increase would hurt people, and does not need to be so high.

The House Finance Committee will have to look at Justice’s numbers and see if there is a better way to solve the budget issue, Ward said.

Ward said he liked Justice’s idea of hiring a waste czar. He also liked Justice’s ideas about education, like getting rid of the current grading system for schools.

West Virginia needs an increase in revenue and a different revenue stream, but Ward is not sure what Justice proposed is the right answer, he said.

Sen. Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said he “thought it was bold.”

The state is in a dire situation and needs to come up with money for its future. The state can’t cut any more from the budget as it has already cut $600 million over the past six years, he said.

“We have to have some revenue in order to buy infrastructure, to get us the jobs we need and charge up the economy,” Prezioso said.

Prezioso said Justice spoke from his heart and made some logical suggestions.

“‘I’m optimistic,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with him on this. It’s all about our future.”

No one wants to increase taxes, he said, but the state needs money and the only way is to increase taxes and fees. It is a necessary evil to get the state out of the mess it is in, Prezioso said.

The Senate Finance Committee will have to see Justice’s proposed budget and what money is generated by the taxes and fees to be able to make a plan. It will be up to the committee and the Legislature to change the budget and make it work, Prezioso said.

The key point of Justice’s speech was that we all have to give a little to get a lot, he said.

“In order for us to move forward, we’re all going to share in the pain,” Prezioso said.

Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, Marion, said if he could sum up Justice’s speech with one word it would be “compassion.” At the top of Justice’s agenda is the people of West Virginia and improving their lives, Beach said.

Beach said he thinks the state gas tax increase proposed by Justice is huge.

“That’s a hard pill to swallow,” he said.

His support for this and other taxes proposed by Justice depends on the tax. He believes that raising the DMV fees was long overdue. There are other fees that have not been changed for a long time that he would have liked to see increased as well, he said.

Beach agrees with Justice on a 2 percent pay increase for teachers, and he wishes, like Justice, that it could be more, he said. Beach said he would be happy to do away with the A through F grading system for schools. and agrees with Justice’s stance against school consolidation.

Justice proposed a tax subsidy for the timber industry. It comes down to where the trees are coming from, and the Legislature has debated a subsidy like this before. A lot of people don’t want trees from state forests used. Trees from private property are fine, Beach said.

“He led with compassion for the people of West Virginia and that’s never a bad thing,” Beach said about his overall view of Justice’s speech.

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