In what may have been his best state-of-the-state speech, West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice brought out the tackle box and ax he used as props in his first speech as Governor, but refrained from his recent use of other props and white boards.
He reported that the state of the state is strong and growing, with personal income increasing by $3 billion and revenue growth at $511 million. He stated that $113 million has been added to the rainy-day fund and $100 million has been added to the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA).
Although severance taxes this year will probably be at a 25-year low, he said the economy is strong because of diversification. He acknowledged a number of businesses that have experienced growth including oil and gas companies MarkWest and Pierto Forentini, automobile companies Hino and Toyota, aerospace companies Northrup Grumman, Auroa Flight Sciences, Pratt Whitney and Bombardier and others.
Justice also expressed his support for a repeal of the business and machine inventory tax, or at least establishing a “glide path” toward eliminating it. However, he cautioned, “We have to be careful. There’s counties to consider, there’s school boards, there’s people that we absolutely want to protect. We’ve got be careful with where we are with our general overall finances. But I don’t want there to be anyone to doubt that I would like it gone – at least gone in time.”
The governor addressed a number of health-related issues and started by asking legislators to bank $150 million of a projected $350 million Medicaid surplus to establish a Medicaid Families First Reserve Fund. For several years, legislators have used the surplus to bridge gaps in the General Revenue fund. Justice said the money will ensure the most vulnerable always have the vital services they need. He provided no details, not unusual for a state-of-the-state speech.
Early on in the speech, Justice gave a shout out to legislation being put forth by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. Few details are available, but Politico reported today, “West Virginia’s GOP Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who joined the red state lawsuit to shut down Obamacare, announced a forthcoming bill aimed at guaranteeing health care coverage for people with pre-existing conditions if that lawsuit succeeds.
“There aren’t many details about the ‘West Virginia Healthcare Continuity Act’ since it hasn’t yet been introduced. Morrisey’s office says it would broadly prevent insurers from refusing coverage based on a person’s pre-existing medical condition, while also ‘mitigating the risk faced by insurers with open enrollment and affiliation periods.’”
Justice said his budget contains funding to eliminate the 1,060-person waiting list for the state’s IDD waiver, which provides funding for services for individuals with severe developmental or physical disabilities. For which, a member of the audience thanked him after the applause settled. He said the budget will contain $3 million for senior centers to purchase vehicles to deliver hot meals to senior citizens, $1 million to go to state food banks and $2 million to support school backpack programs.
Justice said 87 more “child welfare” workers will be hired, and a Challenge Academy for at-risk youth, staffed by the National Guard, will be built in Montgomery, which has been suffering economically since West Virginia Tech moved its campus to Beckley. This would join a program that now exists at Camp Dawson in Kingwood. He said $5.5 million is in the budget for the West Virginia Veterans Nursing Facility in Clarksburg.
The speech ran about 75 minutes.