CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice’s “Save Our State” funding proposal starts the week with a chance to Save Its Self.
Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher is scheduled to make a presentation at 9 a.m. Monday to members of the House and Senate finance committees in the House of Delegates chamber.
In his State of the State address, Governor Justice pitched a $105 million “Save Our State” plan meant to bolster infrastructure and economic development activities.
When Justice announced his second proposed budget Feb. 27, he said the proposal could get by with just a third of the originally-conceived funding per year, $35 million.
Justice has since hit various locations in West Virginia in support of his proposal.
The Republican majority in the Legislature has been skeptical of the spending in light of an estimated half-billion-dollar budget gap for the coming fiscal year.
Many are smaller-government advocates who believe the private sector should be given the flexibility to encourage growth.
Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall said he understands what Justice and Secretary Thrasher are saying, but he hasn’t necessarily bought in.
“I picked up his concept,” Hall said last week in an interview in the Capitol Rotunda. “He’s come here and said I have these business leaders running government and if you give us enough money we’ll go around the country and target return on investment opportunities and we’ll make the state grow.’
“The ‘Save Our State’ concept of ‘give us some front money’ has not gone well in terms of people looking at that. We’ve never done that for Commerce before,” said Hall, R-Putnam.
Hall said he still has questions.
“Would you do this in business? I guess you might. You might say ‘We’ve got the superstar over here, let’s see what he can do with it.’ But you know, we’re not running a hedge fund here. We’re running state government. So that one’s still challenging for the governor to get off of us.”
Legislators have been looking at cuts to state agencies to balance the state budget for the coming fiscal year. That makes any additional general fund money for a program like ‘Save Our State’ a longshot, Hall said.
“Here’s the normal expenditures of the state. Let’s fund that,” Hall said. “If, at the end of the day you’ve got extra money to be more adventurous, I guess we could do that. It’s kind of unusual. It’s not been done that way. However the energy level is pretty high on the part of the governor and his people.”
During an appearance on Thursday, the midway point of the 60-day legislative session, Governor Justice said some level of funding for SOS is crucial for his administration’s efforts to promote West Virginia’s economy. He said he wants the Legislature to get on board.
“We put $105 million in there, and I have shrunk that down to 35,” Justice said. “And the reason we did that is because you’ve got to some way promote West Virginia. We have got to sell ourselves to the outside world.”
In an appearance a month ago before the House Finance Committee, Thrasher defended “Save Our State” as a development tool that would pay off for all West Virginia businesses.
Thrasher is president of The Thrasher Group, an engineering firm that employs 400, and managing partner of White Oaks Business Park in Bridgeport.
“If I thought the tax increases that we’re going to have to do to support these things were going to be counterproductive, I would not be supportive of them,” Thrasher said during his Feb. 15 agency budget hearing before House Finance.
“I think the void we have is the ability to facilitate site development, incentives, preparing sites, enhancing our workforce training in certain places, and I believe that is going to be a far more productive venue to lure businesses than the counterpart, the negativism of those tax increases we’d have to do. Life is full of trade-offs. I believe from a business perspective this is a very worthwhile, beneficial and profitable tradeoff.”