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Gov. Justice delivers third State of the State address

Gov. Jim Justice delivers his third State of the State Address. (West Virginia Public Broadcasting)

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice delivered his third State of the State address Wednesday night.

Justice started his address by saying there would be no budget cuts and not new taxes in the coming year. The governor said the state has reached all-time high mark in revenue and in its surplus.

Not only did Justice say there would be no new taxes, he said the state would be working to make new, significant tax cuts.

Justice spoke at length about education and the state's teachers, saying, "We have to make education our centerpiece."

Justice said his new budget includes a 5 percent pay raise for state employees in addition to the 5 percent raise they received last winter. Justice also said he wants to add $150 million to the Public Employees Insurance Agency, none of which will be taken from the state's budget.

Justice said two things he feels the state needs to improve on most are mathematics scores and absenteeism.

The governor said he wants West Virginia to be the first state to offer computer science courses in all high schools.

He said he wants to pass legislation that would make teacher salaries more competitive with other states and would allow teachers to bank their leave. Justice said he also wants the state's Promise Scholarship to cover vocational schools.

Justice also announced he wants $5 million of the budget to go toward expanding the Communities in Schools program. After making that announcement, a video of Shaquille O'Neal was played with the former NBA great supporting the program.

Justice then turned his attention to tourism in the state, which he said is a "wonderfully bright spot in West Virginia."

In 2017, Justice said West Virginia's tourism saw "unbelievable growth."

Justice said he wants $14 million to go to tourism, saying "put money in and it comes flying back at us."

The governor said the state has sold $60 million is excess bonds to update state parks and is asking leaders to develop multiple lakes for hydroelectricity and flood control.

Switching his focus to the state's roads, Justice said the Roads to Prosperity program has been a "grand slam." Justice received a standing ovation when he said the state needs to change some of its focus to fixing secondary roads.

Justice also talked about the new E-ZPass and tolls rates, urging people to take advantage of the discount before Friday.

Justice then discussed the drug epidemic that he said is "cannibalizing the state." He said the state is "making headway" but is "losing the battle."

The governor said the most important thing he would talk about during his State of the State Address was his proposed program, "Jim's Dream."

The program would aim to get people off drugs and into jobs by providing treatment, education and training.

Justice said he will be asking for more than $20 million for the program, all of which would come from the state's surplus. He said $5 million would go toward prevention, $10 million would go toward treatment and another $10 million would go toward staffing and equipment at training and vocational centers.

As part of the program, graduates would receive a certificate. If they have a record, they would be expunged of any misdemeanors.

During his speech, Justice said the state is "really upside down" when it comes to its foster care system and challenged lawmakers to come up with a solution.

Justice said he and state lawmakers need to solve the riddle of medical marijuana, which received a standing ovation. While he said he supported medicinal marijuana, Justice said he is adamantly against recreational marijuana.

In closing, Justice said he wants to eliminate taxes on Social Security.

He also said he wants to create an intermediate court of appeals in "another step in restoring honor to our courts."

Justice closed his third State of the State, saying "all I want to do is help" and I'm not going to let you down."

You can watch the complete State of the State Address here:





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