Historic W.Va. State of the State message: Gov. Justice delivers written address to lawmakers
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - For the first time in modern West Virginia history, a governor has delivered the State of the State address by written message.
That action came Wednesday after Gov. Jim Justice revealed Tuesday night that he’s battling COVID-19. Justice’s office released a full copy of his State of the State message late Wednesday afternoon.
That included delivery of his proposed budget for the upcoming year -- a requirement by the state’s Constitution.
Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy briefed reporters on the plan late Wednesday afternoon, describing it as essentially a flatline budget.
The budget sets forth $4.64 billion in spending --- up just $65 million from last year’s proposal. Justice calls for just two significant increases: first he projects his 5% across the board pay raise for state workers will cost $114 million. Secondly, the budget allows for a $41 million increase for inmate medical care.
Hardy says that increase is due to the state having to account for court mandates and health care inflation.
The governor’s staff says he will pay for those increases with growing revenues – coming in part from a significant gain in severance taxes.
They also provided perspective, saying current revenues are coming in 4% than in 2019. They say that’s an indication the state’s finances have recovered from the pandemic, since 2019 was the first full year before COVID hit.
Still, caution is the headline as Secretary Hardy said the governor wants a conservative budget to deal with these extraordinary times.
House and Senate leaders will get their first chance to ask questions about the proposal beginning Thursday.
Aside from unveiling the governor’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, the message highlighted what Justice said has been a year of positive gains. He said the unemployment rate has dropped to 4% currently from 7.1% in January 2021.
“These figures represent a 60% improvement in West Virginia’s unemployment rate, which is now one of the lowest in the nation,” he said in the message.
He pointed to Wednesday’s announcement of Nucor Corp. investing a record $2.7 billion in the state, with plans to build a state-of-the-art sheet steel mill in Mason County. “Nucor is going to be a key part of West Virginia’s DNA long into the future,” the governor said.
In 2021 alone, more than 1,330 new jobs were created in West Virginia by 39 different companies, according to the governor.
Justice said the state “continues to lead the way with our response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” including as the first state in the country to offer the vaccine to all seniors in nursing homes.
The governor also said he’s aware of the impact record inflation is having on all West Virginians, saying his proposed “Inflatocine” will help West Virginians hurting when they head to the gas pump or grocery store.
“I need your support to pass this one-time pay supplement for our hardworking state employees. teachers and service personnel,” Justice said.
For a look at the complete State of the State address >>>>
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