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Gov. Jim Justice Speaks for Legislature's Protect WV Day

Steven Rotsch, W.Va. Governor's Office
Gov. Jim Justice calls for a group hug when he steps up to speak about his Save Our State plan.

Friday, March 31 was Protect West Virginia’s lobbying day at the Capitol, a group of advocates fighting to prevent major cuts to the state’s budget. Governor Jim Justice joined the group that morning to push for what he says in an urgent need to increase revenue.

The Governor's Conference Room was packed with kids and community members as Gov. Jim Justice joined lobbying groups for Protect West Virginia Day at the Capitol.

While waiting, local kids from Cabell County Schools buzzed through the room and shared with the adults the things they love about their schools.

Stephen Smith is the Director of the WV Healthy Kids and Families Coalition. He said the kids came to speak up about proposed cuts to public education. A Senate bill being considered by the House would reduce state funding to public schools by $79 million and increase local property taxes to make up for the reduction. Smith said the state's schools can't take.

Smith said to the kids, "In Cabell County, you guys are experts, you are in these schools. Some of the people in this building think that you have $3,288,020 too much for books and teachers and programs, do you agree with them?” Their response was a loud NO in unison.

Protect West Virginia and the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition are two lobbying groups working to prevent substantial cuts to the state budget that they said would hurt West Virginians.

Gov. Jim Justice has been negotiating with lawmakers to increase taxes instead of going through with the proposed cuts.

Credit Steve Rotsch, W.Va. Governor's Office
To illustrate his point, Gov. Justice instructs two kids from the crowd to help him out by dropping a penny in the glass. This is meant to represent his quarter penny sales tax proposal.

During his speech Justice asked two kids from the crowd to stand with him and act out the scene. He said, "For every four dollars I'm going to ask you to put one penny in this glass, now here’s your choice: Johnny at your school is having a hard time and his parents don’t have any money, and Johnny is in bad shape. Now I'm asking you; (directing each child) you've got the four dollars and you've got the penny. Here's your choice okay? Now you can turn your back on Johnny and walk away, he just spent four dollars now you can walk away from Johnny or you can pay your penny, what are you gonna do?"

The plinking of the young girl dropping a penny into the glass echoed the room, followed by cheers.

“That’s what she’s gonna do,” said Justice.

Justice used that example to explain his proposed quarter of a penny sales tax increase. He said for every four dollars a person spends in the state, they should pay an extra penny in sales tax. That would raise an additional $45 million in revenue that Justice said could balance the budget.

Alternatively Justice recommends increasing the cigarette tax by 15 cents as well as increasing a tax on sugary drinks by 2 cents to generate the same amount of revenue.

Dr. Vinod Miriyala the President of the WV Academy of Pediatric Dentistry said sugary drink taxes have been proven to encourage healthier decisions and that it the duty of society to look out for the health of kids.

Miriyala said, "Children go on to develop diabetes and fatty liver disease as young as six and they are diagnosed at age 11. I see kids every day in my practice as young as 5 and 6 who probably weigh a lot more than me, and to behaviorally challenge them it is difficult for me, they can hold me down and I cannot hold them down."

Budget negotiations between Justice and House Republican leaders broke down last week over the proposed tax increase.  However, Justice said the only alternative is devastating cuts.

Standing up against potential cuts to the state's public education is what brought most of these people together Friday, and Smith said the fight isn't done yet.

Smith said, "Number one this is not the law yet. Kids can we say this out loud?”

He was echoed by kids in unison “This is not the law yet.”

“You got it,” said Smith. “That's important because we can still fight it, second it could get even worse, can we say that?”

The chorus of kids repeated, “It can get even worse.”

As the legislative session comes quickly to a close, finding a means to meet these budget gaps is at the top of nearly everyone's agenda. Whether it will be through tax increases or budget cuts, is yet to be seen.

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