Governor suggests state’s population decline will continue if budget “cut to the bone”
By Alex Wiederspiel, WV MetroNews
In the wake of the release of U.S. Census data unfavorable to the state, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice predicts residents will continue to flee the state if the State Legislature presents a budget that’s too heavy and reliant on cuts to services.
“You’ve got to find a way out of it that’s not taking an aspirin for cancer and just smoke and mirrors and doesn’t get you anywhere,” Justice said Thursday morning on “The Gary Bowden Show” on the AJR News Network. “You can’t just use one time money, drain Rainy Day more.”
Justice, who’s budget proposals have included a number of projected revenue increases that have resulted in an early impasse among legislators in Charleston, criticized his GOP opposition during the interview. Justice suggested that failing to come up with new sources of revenue will only further West Virginia’s economic spiral in the wake of a production decrease and simultaneous severance tax decrease from the state’s coal industry.
“The net result of that is more people are going to leave our state,” Justice said. “When more people leave our state, revenue goes down even further and the hole is still there.”
U.S. Census estimates released Thursday indicated 47 of 55 West Virginia counties decreased in population last year. Of the eight counties that added residents, only five of them added more than 20 people in total. 2016 marked the fourth straight year of declining population statewide.
In that time, the coal industry’s work force contracted by 43 percent. Justice said the infrastructure projects he is proposing are vital to creating new employment–at least on a temporary basis.
“I’m a business guy,” he said. “I’m a pretty smart guy. I know what’s going to happen. More people are going to leave. Services are going to go down. We’re going to become 50th times whatever, and we’re not going to get out of this.”
Justice claims his infrastructure package, which includes West Virginia Turnpike toll road hikes, gas tax hikes, and some additional DMV fees, would create approximately 48,000 jobs.
“I am asking the people to pay a quarter of a penny,” he said. “One penny. One penny for every four dollars that they spend.”
“The net-net of the whole thing–what does that get us? 48,000 jobs. Are we kidding ourselves?”
Justice said temporarily increasing revenues in an effort to attract new taxpayers and taxpaying businesses is a better solution than the status quo.
“The other side wants to say, ‘Well, we just want to live within our means,'” he said. “Well, let’s be real now. Have they done that? We haven’t lived within our means the last three years. We have drained the Rainy Day Fund. We’ve lived off the Rainy Day Fund.”
The final day of the Regular Legislative Session is April 8.
Justice’s Chief of Staff, Nick Casey, told Hoppy Kercheval Thursday morning on MetroNews “Talkline” that the Governor wished to avoid a government shutdown “at all costs.”