CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two years ago, Gov. Jim Justice offered a groaning impersonation of Frankenstein’s monster to illustrate state budget difficulties.
Last year, he cast himself as the coach, complete with a cheer from the Greenbrier East girls basketball team he leads.
What will West Virginia see from Jim Justice tonight for his third State of the State address?
“I don’t know. I’ll figure out something between now and then,” Justice said Monday.
“I can’t be anything but just me. You know, I’m always the guy who’s going to tell you the truth. That’s all there is to it. So for good or bad you’ve got me. Until they run me off or whatever, you’ve got me.”
A starter kit for the truth would be a lengthy list of the proposals for the coming year’s budget.
Justice has promised $100 million to shore up insurance for public employees, plus average 5 percent pay raises.
Justice says that’s a slam dunk.
“It’s not going to stretch the extra money. We’ve got it, and you’ll hear more about that in my State of the State,” Justice said Monday.
“That’s the number one thing, right out of the box, that I set up and everything, and we’re going to do that. We’re going to get that done.”
But wait. There’s more.
Four-year colleges have talked about wanting $10 million to make up for cuts of recent years.
The Senate wants to make community and technical college less expensive for students at an estimated cost of less than $10 million.
The Senate majority also wants to establish an intermediate court of appeals at a cost of somewhere between $3 million and $12 million.
The Republican majorities in both houses would like to cut property taxes for businesses. The details of doing so would define the cost, but it would certainly be in the tens of millions annually.
Both parties in both houses are interested in cutting back the taxes people pay on Social Security benefits.
Is the money there?
“We’ll look at the budget and see how it all balances out and see how we can make it all fit,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said Friday during a Legislative Lookahead event.
“We don’t want to spend wildly.”
House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, speaking at a Tuesday appearance to outline legislative priorities, suggested delegates may seek flexibility in dealing with all the priorities.
“There are ways to achieve some of the goals that don’t happen overnight,” Hanshaw said.
The governor has already spoken for much of the available money, suggested Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood, the vice-chairman of the House Finance Committee.
“I don’t call it in the hole, but we’re awfully restricted,” he said.
Criss acknowledged being new to his role, but said it’s up to the governor to provide a starting point on priorities.
One big factor for the coming fiscal year will be the governor’s revenue estimate versus the costs of Justice’s priorities.
“I’m two days on the job as vice chairman. A lot depends on what his excellency the governor is going to bring to us next Wednesday night,” Criss said. “We’re just going to have to wait and see.”
Democrats are likely to push for as much reinvestment as possible after a few years of cuts.
Most so far have expressed support for the teacher pay raise and the community college bill.
“I think we have to see,” said Senator Ron Stollings, D-Boone. “At the same time we have to balance the budget, we have to tinker with it.”
Democrats also have expressed support for cutting the Social Security tax.
They’ve expressed less enthusiasm for cutting property taxes for businesses, a measure that would require two-thirds majorities in both houses to be put to a vote by the public.
And Democrats have been skeptical of the need for an intermediate court of appeals.
“It doesn’t offend me to have an intermediate appellate court,” said state Senator Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha.
“I don’t think it’s a critical thing for us to do. I think there are probably better ways to allocate the scarce dollars that we have.”
Palumbo said the emphasis should be on making West Virginia an attractive place to live, work and stay.
“We’re still hemorrhaging people in West Virginia,” Palumbo said. “We’ve got to focus on keeping our people in West Virginia.”