Governor Jim Justice delivers his final State of the State address tomorrow night in the House of Delegates chamber, kicking off the 2024 regular session of the Legislature. As is typically the case with this Governor, it’s hard to know what he is going to say ahead of time because Justice likes to ad lib.
However, here are some points we can expect Justice to make:
–He will tout a record of accomplishments because, well, all Governors do that in their State of the State addresses. In Justice’s case, there are legitimate and significant economic development announcements during his second term that he can talk about. I would expect he will also have some additional economic announcements tomorrow night to add to the list.
–Watch for the Governor to call attention to real people. Guests in the gallery will be individuals directly impacted by economic development or state programs, and that helps put a face on success. Those are guaranteed applause lines.
–Justice has already announced his support for an average five percent across-the-board pay raise for schoolteachers, staff and state employees. Senate President Craig Blair and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw have indicated support for the raises. Justice’s full endorsement of the raise during a statewide address would add more momentum to the pledge.
–Justice may take on the controversial high school athlete transfer law. The legislation passed last year has triggered waves of student transfers that critics say upended the balance of high school sports. Justice, who has been a high school basketball coach for years, has expressed concern about the rule and suggested it needs to be changed.
–State government continues to run a surplus. That will give Justice an opportunity to speak to the income tax rate reductions that have already taken place and lay the groundwork for the next round of reductions if surpluses continue. In addition, a surplus gives the Governor a chance to propose additional one-time spending on any number of needs in the state.
–It will be interesting to see if Justice says anything about child care. Speaker Hanshaw has said one of his priorities this session is making child care more affordable and available for West Virginia families. A gubernatorial endorsement of that idea would give it some heft during the session.
–Justice loves to riff about travel and tourism topics, and numbers reflect that sector of the state’s economy continues to expand. During the State of the State address last year he said, “There’s so much goodness going on in our parks and everywhere else under the sun. I could go on forever and ever and a day.” Expect more of that tomorrow night.
–You could make a drinking game out of Justice’s colloquialisms. Those are speech comfort zones for Justice that help him communicate his thoughts and feelings. After seven years in office, two statewide elections and consistently high poll numbers, it is fair to say his personality resonates with most West Virginians.
–And then there will be a surprise. One year he brought out the Greenbrier East cheerleaders. Two years ago, after singer Bette Midler insulted West Virginia, Justice held up Babydog, his beloved English bulldog, flashed the dog’s rear end, and invited Midler to kiss it. We will find out together tomorrow night was Justice has in mind for a parting shot.
Hopefully, if Babydog is in attendance this year, we’ll only see his front side.
(Correction: An earlier version said the Babydog incident was last year. It was in 2022, not 2023.)