On Wednesday, Jan. 8, Republican Gov. Jim Justice rolled out his legislative wishlist for 2020’s 60-day session. Justice’s state of the state address touched on everything from economic opportunities to substance abuse and child welfare, outlining a smaller budget compared to previous years but also highlighting new policy proposals.
Justice used some familiar narrative devices at the beginning of his speech.
“When I walked in the door, I said I was going to take you on a rocket ship ride. And we’ve been on this rocket ship ride,” he said.
But, this time around, Justice appeared to temper his outlook for the upcoming fiscal year’s budget. He held a sign that showed an up and down projection that ultimately pointed upward.
“What I want you to do is change. And I want you to come on this lightning bolt ride with us. Because that's where we will go," Justice said. "We are underfilling and we're building in what should be built in. That's why, tonight, you're going to say that the budget that I propose to you is very, very conservative.”
According to state officials, the governor’s $4.585 billion general revenue budget for Fiscal Year 2021 will be roughly $108 million less than the current allocation.
In hopes of invigorating business possibilities in the state, Justice touted an idea for a Mountaineer Impact Fund -- a proposal that’s been floated by House Speaker Roger Hanshaw in the lead-up to the 2020 legislative session.
“You have a fund that becomes the bank that you can loan money and inspire people to invest within the state of West Virginia,” he explained of Hanshaw’s proposal. “You can give all kinds a great return on their money that they invest and you can bring money to our state like you can't imagine. It is an ingenious idea and I absolutely will fully support it.”
Justice’s affinity for props emerged once again as he asked attendees in the House chamber put on highway worker safety vests. He also celebrated road work his administration has accomplished over recent years and said he looks forward to continuing that trend.
“280 pieces of new equipment. We have now 27,000 miles of maintenance that they've done. In 18 months, 500 projects and 1,100 miles done,” he said. “We just went through the second round of bonding and we have -- believe it or not -- another $146.5 million. We can just do anything we want. We're going to pour more and more and more money into our roads.”
Justice rolled out a set of new policy proposals, including requesting $1.9 million for Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety Secretary Jeff Sandy to establish a new task force to crack down on drug trafficking.
“I will promise you that if you are kind enough to give us that opportunity — and I want to say this as sincerely and as forcefully as a human being could ever say it. I want to look right in the camera and tell anybody that is trying to come into our state with drugs: ‘We are going to bust your ass.’ That's all there is to it,” he said.
The governor highlighted needs within the embattled Department of Health and Human Resources. To that end, he proposed hiring 87 additional workers for Child Protective Services at a cost of $26.4 million. Justice is also seeking $19.7 million to eliminate the waitlist for services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“There's 1,060 of them that have been on a waitlist for a long time — some of them for years. 600 of them are children,” he said of the IDD waiver waitlist. “We have now found enough money. Tonight, I'm so proud to announce Secretary Crouch and Secretary Hardy have found a solution and my budget will contain the funding to eliminate the waitlist.”
Returning to finances, Justice also proposed a million dollars to increase opportunities at food banks across the state and another $2 million for a backpack program to feed needy school children.
In closing, Justice returned to another set of familiar themes, including his love for the state and the role of governor as coach.
“I love you. I love this great state. I love all that we stand for,” he said. “I love the fact that I've been able to be maybe a coach have been maybe working towards the fact that if we could just say that maybe just maybe I've been a coach has been working to train you for the Olympics. And that's you being West Virginia. And all I would say now is go into gold.”
Lawmakers will consider the governor’s and their own legislative agendas during the next 59 days.