CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Many Republican lawmakers left the state Capitol Wednesday evening feeling positive about this year’s legislative session, with Gov. Jim Justice building that optimism for most through his State of the State address.
Democrats, however, felt Justice put the state in a positive light without addressing longstanding problems or specifics about his plans for this year.
Justice talked about increased state revenue, as well as his goals for this year, including pay raises for state employees, increased tourism spending and a subsidy for community and technical colleges.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, called Justice’s address an “excellent speech.”
“We’re on the uptick, and it’s obvious throughout the state that the people are feeling better about the economy,” he said. “We’re finally on the move in our state.”
Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said Justice has come in with a positive attitude, and that has resonated with Republican lawmakers.
“We’ve truly turned the corner and come out of the trough,” he said. “Let’s talk about what we can do instead of why we can’t.”
Delegate Guy Ward, R-Marion, said there are multiple people to thank for the state’s current position.
“One thing (Justice) talked about was a miracle. That miracle has a name: Donald Trump,” he said. “Donald Trump has done a lot for this state, and West Virginians know that, too.”
Justice described Trump as a friend during his speech. The governor and president had a relationship prior to their political careers. Justice even announced he was leaving the Democratic Party in August at a Trump rally in Huntington.
Democrats, however, found little substance in Justice’s comments. Delegate Issac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, said Justice’s budget numbers seem like “fantasy,” noting nothing substantial has happened to cause a dramatic shift from last year.
“We went to a $400 million deficit last year to now we’re rolling in money? Nothing’s changed.” he said. “His road bond program hasn’t even been implemented yet.”
Sponaugle added he thinks Justice’s next steps will involve cutting funding from programs such as Medicaid to fund his proposals.
“He was very light on details,” he said. “A lot of theatrics with platters, which is his norm.”
Delegate Andrew Robinson, D-Kanawha, said Justice painted too positive of an image.
“We’re looking at the same state we were looking at 11 months ago,” he said. “Things haven’t turned around completely. We still have to work to go forward.”
Robinson said while Justice mentioned some strong proposals, he looked over matters such as workforce training.
“We still have the same issues that caused our deficit the last five years,” he said.
Wednesday was the first day of the regular legislative session, which is scheduled to go through March 10.