CHARLESTON — Gov. Jim Justice lauded a flourishing economy for the state of West Virginia, but didn’t discuss an anticipated $108.6 million revenue shortfall for next year during his State of the State address on Jan. 8.
Briefly saying that the state’s severance tax revenue was the lowest it’s been in 25 years, Justice did not address how he anticipated lawmakers would account for what’s been described as a “flat” budget for fiscal year 2021 during his speech in the House of Delegates chamber.
In a speech that saw a special guest appearance by World War II Medal of Honor recipient Woody Williams, Justice announced his goal to get rid of a waitlist for Medicaid waivers, support for a safety net, and a new purpose for the former campus of West Virginia Tech in Montgomery.
About four hours before Justice delivered his speech, Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy told media that the general revenue budget for the 2021 fiscal year would be flat compared to last year, at about $4.58 billion.
The 2021 fiscal year begins July 1, 2020.
At the top of Justice’s speech he said he stood “like a rock” with President Donald Trump and the things he stands for including “legal immigration” and being against sanctuary cities, which Justice said he hoped and prayed never came to West Virginia.
“I can tell you without any reservations I stand with the unborn, and I’m a sportsman,” Justice said. “I love the outdoors. The Second Amendment is ingrained in me forever more, whether you love me or don’t love me. It’s a simple fact.”
In his next point, Justice said a widely circulated photo of members of a Division of Corrections and Rehabilitation officer training course giving a Nazi salute was “not good.”
“On my watch, there’s no place for hate, and there’s no place for anti-Semitism on my watch,” Justice said.
Among the governor’s priorities for the 2020 legislative session is the elimination of a waitlist to access a Medicaid waiver for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
The announcement received a standing ovation, with one woman in the crowd thanking Justice as the applause died down.
Medicaid waivers allow for certain rules of the health care program to be waived for people who normally don’t qualify for Medicaid services.
Among those groups who qualify for waivers are people who have intellectual disabilities, but in West Virginia, there’s a waitlist with more than 4,000 names.
Justice on Wednesday asked lawmakers to commit to spending $19.7 million to make it happen.
Justice also asked lawmakers to build into the budget $26.4 million to the Department of Health and Human Resources to hire 87 Child Protective Services workers and better support social services and the Children’s Health Insurance Plan, better known as CHIP.
“We got a real problem, and we gotta own up to it and step up to the plate and do something about it,” Justice said. “So, we’re going to, within my budget … we’re going to try to improve child welfare in the state of West Virginia until it is the very best in the country.”
The state DHHR is facing a lawsuit in federal court, brought by state and national advocacy groups that say the state has violated the federal and constitutional rights of the nearly 7,000 children in its custody.
Early in his speech, Justice said he supported a bill proposed by Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and supported by Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, that would create a safety net when it comes to insurance coverage.
The Affordable Care Act, referred to as Obamacare by its opponents, contains a provision that prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
The bill would prevent insurance companies from denying West Virginians health care coverage due to a pre-existing condition in the event that the Affordable Care Act is repealed either through Congress or via any action in court.
A lawsuit is pending in U.S. District Court in Texas that challenges the Affordable Care Act. Morrisey was one of the attorneys general who signed onto the lawsuit when it was filed in 2018.
In other statements from the governor’s speech:
- Woody Williams briefly took Justice’s podium Wednesday to ask for $12,000 to support a monument on state grounds for Gold Star families, who are families whose loved one has died while serving in the military during a time of conflict. Justice had just announced funding for a veterans nursing home in Clarksburg.
- Justice supported establishing an intermediate appeals court, saying he thought it could get across the finish line this session.
- As he talked about economic development, Justice told West Virginians to expect a significant announcement within 30 days regarding a lighting company from Wales.
- Justice touted his Roads to Prosperity program, saying another bond sale for the program was planned for July. He also mentioned the president for the second time in his speech, saying he wanted West Virginia to capitalize on a $2 trillion federal infrastructure plan Justice said was on its way.
- Justice asked lawmakers to eliminate the business inventory and machinery tax, saying it was holding the state back. He asked lawmakers how the loss of that particular property tax would affect local county governments and systems that rely on revenue from the tax.
- Justice said the state will open a new Mountaineer Challenge Academy in Montgomery on the former campus of West Virginia Tech. Justice said the academy expansion will happen without raising taxes or spending new money. The campus hasn’t been in regular use since Tech relocated to Beckley in 2017. The academy, currently located at Camp Dawson in Preston County, is a military-like school that allows students to earn their high school diplomas within roughly five months.