There is now a counter-proposal to Governor Jim Justice’s budget for next fiscal year and it comes from… Governor Jim Justice.
Justice apparently sensed that his first budget proposal was in trouble, and he has now come out with a revised plan. The Governor made the surprise announcement Monday afternoon. “It’s another pathway, a pathway with less pain and that’s what we want, isn’t it? A pathway to real prosperity with less pain.”
So what’s in this new plan?
–He’s lowering his proposed Business and Occupation Tax from two-tenths of one percent to less than one-tenth of one percent.
–The sales tax increase would drop from one-half cent to one-quarter of a cent, so instead of 6.5 percent it would be 6.25 percent.
–The gas tax increase of 10 cents a gallon drops to 4.5 cents.
–The proposed increase in the annual driver’s license renewal fee from $30 to $50 would be offset by requiring vehicle inspections just once every three years instead of annually.
–His new proposal includes an additional one-cent per ounce tax on sugary soft drinks that would raise $85 million.
–The cigarette tax would rise by another 50 cents, to $1.70 per pack, which would bring in another $48 million.
–The Governor also proposed a “wealth tax” for those making over $200,000 that would start at $500 a year and cap out at $1,000.
–Turnpike tolls would rise from $2 to $4, but West Virginians could pay $8 for a pass to avoid the tolls.
–Justice emphasizes that the lynchpin of his plan remains a major statewide road construction project that he says will put 48,000 people to work. The Governor contends that the payroll taxes from those jobs will be enough to sunset the higher taxes he’s proposing.
There’s more to his new proposal, and you can read about it from Brad McElhinny, but Justice says this new plan will produce a surplus of $63 million. His revised budget still includes $27 million in cuts, but he says he’s open to more cuts as proposed by the Legislature as long as they are not crippling in his view.
Justice says he put pencil to paper Sunday to come up with the alternative, called key staff members Sunday night and got them working on the budget. “I’m all in and I’m working all the time and I’m trying to fix it,” Justice said. “I’m trying to find a pathway that’s a little easier.”
This is a significant curve ball in the budget process. Justice says he’s not changing horses midstream, but he wants to have another alternative to consider, adding that he has not seen anything from the Republicans yet.
This could be a fresh starting point with Republican leaders who had largely dismissed the Governor’s initial budget plan because of all the taxes, especially if Justice is open to deeper cuts. The new budget offering also shows Justice is open to different ideas and willing to compromise.