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Gayle Manchin touts Justice’s budget plan in Huntington

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s “Save our State” tour made its stop in Huntington Friday as a member of Justice’s cabinet came to the Jewel City to discuss his ideas to balance the state’s budget and hopefully jump-start the state’s economy.

Gayle Manchin, secretary of Education and the Arts, talked to community members and staff at the West Virginia State Office Building in Huntington, where she pitched Justice’s ideas for the state while the governor did the same in Parkersburg Friday.

Manchin outlined Justice’s new proposal to close an estimated $500 million state deficit for fiscal year 2018, which begins July 1, 2017.

Justice’s plan includes raising taxes on sugary soft drinks and cigarettes, revising pension contributions and reducing previously proposed fractional sales and corporate tax hikes.

Manchin used some of Justice’s terminology, describing the plan as being “in two buckets.”

The first bucket involves balancing the state’s budget for fiscal year 2018, and the second bucket deals with a highway financing and construction plan.

West Virginia Secretary for Education and the Arts Gayle Manchin addresses a crowd in the West Virginia State Office Building in Huntington on Friday, March 3, 2017. Manchin was in Huntington as a part of Gov. Jim Justice’s “Save our State” tour.

Justice’s new budget plan called for raising the cigarette tax by 50 cents a pack and taxing sugary soft drinks at 1 cent per ounce. Those measures would raise an estimated $132 million in fiscal year 2018.

He suggested increasing the state sales tax by 0.25 percent, half his earlier proposal, and imposing on corporate revenues a tax of only 0.00075 percent, even less than the 0.2 percent he initially proposed.

“This is hopefully a temporary bucket,” Manchin said Friday. “This just keeps us solvent, so that we don’t keep sliding down this very slippery slope into failing completely.”

In the second bucket, Justice has called for major highway reconstruction to boost the state economy, funded by bonding seeded with revised taxes and fees. Justice and members of his cabinet have said it could create up to 48,000 jobs.

Justice would partly offset his proposed $20 increase in the annual fee for license plate vehicle stickers by reducing inspection frequency to every three years. The West Virginia Turnpike toll would double to $2 while letting state residents buy an $8 pass. He would raise the state gas taxes by 4.5 cents a gallon, roughly half the 10 cents he proposed earlier.

“That bucket is all about driving the economy, creating economic development, certainly building and improving roads,” Manchin said. “This bucket is hopefully the light at the end of the tunnel, that if we can get this started and with the energy issues being better addressed by the new president and for our state, that we should see the economy start lifting at many levels, not just road and bridge construction.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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