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Editorial: Construction plan could help add jobs quickly

From The Herald-Dispatch of Huntington:

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice delivered one of the most memorable State of the State addresses ever on Wednesday night in Charleston.

In his unscripted speech, he presented bold ideas on how to help West Virginia get its economy going and deal with the current shortfalls in the state budget. The billionaire businessman’s passion for the state rang through as clearly as his concerns about the current state of the Mountain State.

“We’re dying. We are dying. It’s so blooming bad, you can’t possibly imagine,” Justice said about the direction of the economy. “There’s a way out. Prosperity is in front of us.”

His proposal to balance the state budget with large-scale tax increases likely will run into quite a bit of opposition. As the legislature convenes this week, it faces an estimated $100 million shortfall in the current year’s budget and a $500 million shortfall in next year’s budget.

But the governor was also thinking beyond the immediate budget problem. The state needs strategies to jump-start the economy. Shoring up coal and gas employment is certainly part of the plan, but Justice also talked about the potential for tourism, agriculture and other business flowing for a more educated population and workforce.

He is right on all those fronts, but none of that will blossom quickly. For more immediate impact, Justice proposed adding $2.8 billion in bonding to fund highway and bridge projects. The 45 projects mentioned are not only needed, but they could help create 48,000 jobs, Justice said.

The bond issue proposal would include higher DMV fees, higher tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike and perhaps new toll roads. But Justice suggested the tolls would be structured to provide a break for local residents and lean more heavily on out-of-state traffic.

The governor also hopes many of those construction jobs could go to the state’s unemployed, both displaced miners and young people searching for training and job opportunities.

“I want it to be our training ground. I want it to be our apprenticeship program,” Justice said. He also proposes charging successful contract bidders a 5-percent fee or tax and pool that money to address the state’s drug problem.

It is a big idea, and one that would require both legislative approval and voter approval, but it has the potential to provide West Virginia with job creation in the near future. That is certainly something the state needs.


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