|Justice delivers more traditional state-of-the-state
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice Wednesday evening gave a much more traditional state-of-the-state address than he has in past years. He spoke, following tradition, from the clerk’s desk in the majestic House of Delegates chamber and appeared to be reading, at least partially, from prepared remarks.
He called for nearly $45 million in funds to address the state’s drug crisis.
Justice has big plans and encouraged legislators to trust him to execute the ambitious proposals, which include $5 million for prevention, $10 million for treatment and $10 million for staffing vocational schools to provide job training for those in recovery and put them into the workforce. Justice asked for an additional, one-time $20 million appropriation to purchase the equipment needed for the training.
Dubbed Jim’s Dream, the plan would also allow those completing the program to petition courts for immediate expungement of misdemeanor drug offenses.
Other than his plans to address the substance abuse problem, Justice made no mention of health care.
Education was the speech’s centerpiece.
He called on legislators to “make education our centerpiece” and reaffirmed his call for five percent salary increases for teachers and public employees. He called for additional leeway to increase salaries of individuals teaching foreign languages, math, science and special education.
That positive wage discrimination, along with suggesting a look at the state aid formula for ways to make it better, may generate controversy during the session. The state aid formula, which capitol watchers joke is only truly understood by one or two people in the entire state, is the formula the state uses to determine how much state money goes to county boards of education to pay teacher salaries and other personnel included in the formula.
Justice challenged the State Department of Education to improve math scores and address absenteeism.
Justice called for additional tourism funds, noting the excellent return on investment, and said plans to work with China on economic development projects are still on the table as soon as the presidents of China and the United States “quit butting heads.”
He said the state will invest a $100 million surplus earmarked for PEIA and funnel the investment income into the program for the 2020 fiscal year, when it is needed.
Justice called the state’s foster care program “upside down” and encouraged legislators to provide him a solution.
He praised his own hard work and that of the legislature for bringing the state out of what he called bankruptcy to the point of a record surplus.
Justice said we need to fix the state’s medical marijuana system, plagued by banking issues, and strongly opposed the legalization of recreational marijuana.
He called for implementation of an intermediate court of appeals and for removing the state tax on Social Security benefits.
And, on the matter of optics…
Just a few months ago, Justice Beth Walker stood in the well of the house facing censure for actions by the Supreme Court. She proudly walked with her colleagues into the chamber as the court’s chief justice.
Justice teasingly referred to Bray Carey, his special assistant, as “his oldest son.” Many privately credit Carey, who previously owned television stations, for cleaning up the governor’s image and making him look more gubernatorial.
Democrat-turned-Republican Justice was effusive in his praise of West Virginia National Guard General Jim Hoyer. Charleston chatter has some Democrat leaders encouraging Hoyer seek the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and oppose Justice.
Senate Finance schedules 11 bills for Day Two meeting
The Senate Finance Committee has 11 bills on its agenda for Jan. 10 at 9:30 a.m. (Hyperlinks to the bills appear in the Bills introduced list. They include:
SB 24 – Relating generally to local boards of health (JJ)
SB 28 – Removing hotel occupancy tax limit collects for medical care and emergency services (JJ)
SB 36 – Allowing adjustment of gross income for calculating personal income liability for certain retirees (JJ)
SB 47 – Providing wind power projects be taxed at real property rate (JJ)
SB 106 – Alleviating double taxation on foreign income at state level (JJ)
SB 10 – Relating to Second Chance Driver’s License Program (AN)
SB 13 – Changing distribution of racetrack video lottery net terminal income, excess net terminal income, and excess lottery fund (AN)
SB 27 – Removing restrictions on where certain traditional lottery games may be played (AN)
SB 48 – Creating five-year sunset on all tax credits created under chapter 11 of code (AN)