CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice will focus his attention today on a successful end to the state fiscal year and the establishment of a Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education.

The governor plans an 11 a.m. press conference at the Capitol on both issues.

Justice announced his intention to study the state’s higher education system on Thursday.

“Our West Virginia colleges and universities are so critical to our communities, and the continued erosion of their stability deeply concerns me,” Justice stated.

“My hope is that every possible solution will be considered and evaluated, all colleges and universities will be consulted, and that the Commission will find the right solution for our higher education system in West Virginia.”

The statement didn’t elaborate on examples of erosion of stability.

The Governor’s Office said the commission will be officially created by executive order and is expected to be signed by this coming Monday.

Justice has asked the commission to give regular updates and reports and has mandated the work be completed by this December’s interim meetings of the state Legislature.

The governor also plans to address the end of the fiscal year and the start of the new one.

West Virginia ended the most recent fiscal year June 30 with a surplus. Justice has been pointing toward a likely surplus for a few months now.

The past fiscal year’s budget is the one that required weeks and weeks of special session in 2017 to settle. Governor Justice expressed his displeasure over the first incarnation of the budget the Legislature passed by unveiling his veto intentions with a platter of bovine excrement.

The budget the state wound up operating under, he let pass without his signature. “I’m just going to let it go into law. I can’t possibly put my name on it,” he said.

At the time, Justice had wanted a $4.35 billion budget that bolstered revenue by raising the sales tax to 6.5 percent and extending it to additional economic sectors.

His goals included using the new revenue to decrease the personal income tax and establish a tiered severance tax system for coal that gave a break for companies when prices are low.

He was so upset that he filled one of his trademark whiteboards with ways the budget just didn’t measure up.

He did provide some budgetary breathing room that year with a late-breaking announcement of a higher revenue estimate of an additional few hundred million dollars a year, bolstered with unorthodox accounting of stimulus from the road bond he was touting.

Last week, House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson released a statement applauding the imminent end to the fiscal year with a surplus.

Nelson, R-Kanawha, gave the Legislature credit for holding its ground on spending.

“When we started the budget process in February 2017, we were facing a nearly $500 million deficit,” Nelson stated. “The Governor, who was a Democrat at the time, proposed closing that gap with $450 million in tax increases – something we in the Legislature fiercely opposed.”

Half of any surplus funds left over at the end of the fiscal year will be deposited into the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

Remaining surplus amounts will fund several key programs that lawmakers identified in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget bill, including $5 million for the Office of Drug Control Policy, $765,000 to purchase stream gauges for flood control, $2.5 million to boost Division of Tourism marketing, and $2 million to provide Volunteer Fire Departments’ Workers’ Compensation payments.

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