Governor Jim Justice has started using his best weapon to try to win legislative support for his budget proposal and his massive road building plan: Himself.
Justice, who seemed to keep a relatively low profile at the start of his term, is now everywhere—local and statewide talk radio, rallies at the capitol and at highway construction sites—pitching his plan to fix roads and put people back to work.
Sunday he was in Raleigh County, flanked by an American flag and a “road work ahead” rallying support for raising taxes to fix the roads. “If all we do is try to balance the budget, we’re going to die,” Justice warned the roughly 200 people who turned out.
Last Friday, the Governor joined in the Transportation Day activities at the Capitol to try to bring pressure on lawmakers to support his $2.8 billion dollar plan. “I’ve got to tell a lot of knuckleheads that are stuck in the mud and saying no, no, no, no and they believe that you can constrict and constrict and every time now we constrict, we’re cutting into the bone. And when we constrict, we die.”
This Friday, Justice will appear on entire first hour of MetroNews Talkline to take call-in questions from West Virginians about the budget and his road plan. The Justice administration pitched the idea to MetroNews and we accepted.
Justice is not only the Governor; he’s also a businessman and a salesman. He clearly believes the merits of his arguments combined with the force of his will can give him the legislative victories he so badly wants.
The biggest obstacles are the proposals themselves–$450 million in new taxes (taxes he says will be temporary) to balance next year’s budget and higher gas taxes, tolls and DMV fees to pay for the road bonds. Voters were clearly under the impression that Justice planned to turn the state around without new taxes, so this is a substantial pivot.
Additionally, Justice faces Republican majorities in the House and Senate that are wary, if not openly hostile, to any new taxes. The Governor reportedly received a respectful, but wary reception when he spoke privately to Republicans about his plans.
Justice has tried to frame the argument as either/or; either the Legislature approves his plan or the state faces economic Armageddon. Clearly there is a middle ground of cuts and taxes, but the Governor has chosen not to go that route.
So he shoulders the burden of trying to bring public pressure on lawmakers to come with him. That’s a tough sell, but to his credit, Justice is out in front. He’s spending a considerable chunk of the goodwill he built up in the campaign by trying to get West Virginia taxpayers to pay a little more and trust him to turn around the state’s economy.
Justice has made a lot of big sales over his lifetime, from saving the Greenbrier to bringing the PGA TOUR and an NFL training camp to West Virginia, but his budget and road proposal are his more challenging.