Part pep rally, part campaign opener for a potential U.S. Senate run in 2024, Gov. Jim Justice presented a rosy picture of his tenure as CEO of West Virginia and our future prospects.
He started out lifting up an historic state budget surplus that was, in part, artificially created by years of low-balling his revenue projections and ‘flat line’ budgets that are, in reality, budget cuts in this era of runaway inflation.
These accounting tricks, along with a temporary boom cycle in energy extraction revenues, are not a platform on which to base drastic, permanent cuts to state revenue such as his proposed 50% cut in our state’s income tax.
Justice states that this will result in a ‘tsunami’ of new residents moving to our state. What type of tsunami will occur from cutting income tax revenue by 50%? Most likely a tsunami of slashes to state agencies which provide services to our citizens! The governor’s predictions on this have no basis in reality despite his admonitions to look at the data, which, when researched, doesn’t support his rose glasses claims.
Taking all the credit for landing several high-profile manufacturing plants, he gave lip service to the fact that this was done with hundreds of millions of Federal ARPA funds even as he asked the legislature to appropriate an additional $500 million to his development slush fund partly in order to finance some deals already announced such as the battery factory in the Northern Panhandle. Also not noted was another major factor in landing these recent deals — the huge federal tax credits targeting energy states like ours, packed into the Inflation Reduction Act.
An additional 5% increase in state worker’s salaries would be welcome and help cover the rising costs of inflation but will still leave West Virginia uncompetitive with surrounding states when trying to attract new workers. We agree with the governor that West Virginia needs to be more competitive on pay for state employees.
The governor proposed addressing many long-term needs and problems, but only with one-time injections of ‘surplus’ money, not permanent structural fixes. PEIA, our state workers’ health insurance fund, needs money now but really needs a long-term funding solution. Retired state workers would benefit from a one-time $1,500 bonus but what they need is an aggressive yearly cost of living adjustment to stay ahead of inflation. Hunger and homelessness are real problems, and a million dollars will feed a lot of hungry West Virginians but what about directing some of the millions in federal resources for putting locals to work upgrading our housing?
Of course, it’s proper to give shout outs to our dedicated National Guard who’s there for us when disaster strikes and whose service overseas has supported our nation’s foreign policy. But the governor failed to mention that our Guard is also on its second tour, due to the second state of emergency he’s declared in our prisons, keeping the lid on the powder-keg that are our state prisons, which cannot hire enough guards to safely manage their overpopulation.
In short, there are far too many unaddressed needs in our state for the governor to be running victory laps and proposing cutting taxes that he, as the wealthiest West Virginian, stands to gain from the most. Governor, take off the rose-colored glasses and work with our lawmakers to address them! That would be a legacy to be proud of.
Coordinator & Office
WV Citizen Action Group/Education Fund