Sidelined by COVID, W.Va. governor's address read by clerk
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice on Wednesday proposed a $4.65 billion budget for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a previously announced pay raise for teachers and other state workers.
The Republican governor’s State of the State address, scheduled for Wednesday night, was called off after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Tuesday. Instead, the remarks were read to lawmakers by the House of Delegates clerk Wednesday evening.
Justice said he still wants to address a joint session of the Legislature after he recovers.
The governor’s office said in a statement that, according to state archivists, it’s the first time in modern history that a governor delivered a State of the State speech by written message.
The governor’s budget proposal calls for a 1.4% increase, or $65.5 million, in spending. Justice said the budget is essentially flat for the fourth straight year. After his speech was read, the House referred the governor’s budget to its finance committee before adjourning.
West Virginia started the new year strong fiscally, thanks in part to federal stimulus payments. Justice said revenue collections to date for fiscal 2022 are $475 million above estimates.
The average 5% pay raises for state employees, announced by Justice last month, is expected to cost $114 million. Justice also proposed a $41 million infusion for inmate medical care.
The governor’s proposal didn’t include anything like last year when his top priority was a state income tax cut for most earners. That suggestion failed to make it through the Legislature.
But this year’s legislative session has already started out with a bang.
Earlier Wednesday, Justice announced that a North Carolina steelmaker will build a $2.7 billion mill in Mason County, creating an estimated 800 manufacturing jobs, and a Canadian electric school bus manufacturer will produce buses in South Charleston, bringing up to 200 jobs.
“We are shedding our image of being uneducated, dusty, poor and backward,” Justice said. “We are shedding our image of being bankrupt and a place business cannot operate because of our legal system. Together, we will continue to shed the dead weight that has been holding us back for years so we can continue to climb higher and higher on our journey to prosperity in West Virginia.”