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Mid-Ohio Valley lawmakers have mixed reaction to Justice proposals

By BRETT DUNLAP

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Local lawmakers were surprised with Gov. Jim Justice’s first State of the State address in that it called for additional taxes and fees after he ran on a campaign to stop over taxation.

Justice addressed both houses of the Legislature Wednesday night following the first day of the regular legislative session for 2017. A total of 212 bills were submitted in the House of Delegates and 200 bills were submitted in the Senate on Wednesday.

The governor talked about how West Virginia was in a dire situation financially and how everyone needed to work together to find a way out of it. For years, the state has relied on budget cuts and dipping into the state’s Rainy Day fund to balance the budget. That approach will not be able to continue indefinitely and something will need to change, Justice said.

Although he said he hated tax increases, Justice proposed increases in the state’s sale tax, an increase in business taxes, a 10-cent increase in the state’s gasoline tax and an increase in DMV fees for the next three years as well as other proposals to help make up a $500 million budget deficit next year.

However, Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said what Justice proposed amounted to $450 million in taxes and fees that would be put on the residents of West Virginia to pay.

“I don’t see it happening,” she said.

Boley said Justice ran an election on a platform of no new taxes, cutting taxes and “having big ideas,” but all she heard Wednesday was talk about a lot of different tax increases.

“We will see,” she said of how his proposals will be handled by the Legislature.

Justice proposed $27 million in cuts, but Boley believes more can be done to cut government spending.

As it is early in the session, Boley said the Legislature will look at everything and figure out what can be done.

Some of the tax increases and fees being proposed might be necessary, but not $450 million, she said.

Sen. Mike Azinger, R-Wood, said he was disappointed in the governor’s speech. He was hoping for leadership and got old policies that have continually failed in the past, Azinger said.

“It was really uninspiring,” he said.

What the governor proposed amounted to $17 in taxes for every $1 of cuts, Azinger said.

Azinger mentioned the governor’s campaign talk about people being taxed to death and over regulation that prevented business growth.

There was no “transformative plan” to turn the state around, Azinger said of what Justice proposed.

The governor compared West Virginia to a rocket blasting off, he said.

“How can that rocket blast off when it has a ton of concrete weighing it down and that concrete is taxes and regulations,” Azinger said. “We need to get rid of those.”

Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood, was still processing the speech after it was over.

“There was a lot to absorb,” he said.

Criss agreed the state was in a financial mess that everyone was going to have to clean up.

Criss said he wants to look over what the governor will submit to the Legislature as a lot of things will be drawn out in the details.

It might have to take a combination of tax increases and budget cuts, but he wants particulars on what the governor is proposing so he can evaluate it, Criss said.

Delegate Bill Anderson, R-Wood, said Justice made “several bold proposals.”

Anderson was intrigued by the idea of having bonds to help fund highway repairs which would end up going to a vote of the people. He has proposed something similar in the past.

“The devil is in the details,” Anderson said of wanting to look at exactly what is being proposed.

Anderson said he liked that the governor gave attention to the state’s drug abuse problem. Anderson is signing on as a co-sponsor to a bill being proposed by Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, for drug abuse treatment facilities in the state.

The state needs to be able to attract jobs and build its economy, especially after the downturn in the coal industry which has had an impact as far north as Wood County, Anderson said.

Kelly called the speech “unique.”

Kelly was in agreement with Justice to do away with Common Core education standards and the excessive testing of students that results in little, he said.

With everything the governor proposed, Kelly said lawmakers will have to look at them and evaluate them.

“We have 60 days to talk about it,” he said. “We will see.”

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