CHARLESTON, W.Va. — After hearing Gov. Jim Justice's State of the State address, both Republican and Democratic leaders in the West Virginia House and Senate believe the state is headed in the right direction.
The Republicans seem slightly more optimistic than the Democrats though.
Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said the governor's speech was a great pep talk for the start of the session, but it lacked for details.
Justice called for pay raises for teachers, state employees and a $20 million investment in tourism. He also called for no new taxes.
With no new taxes, Prezioso said he doesn't know how the governor plans to balance the budget.
"Obviously, you're going to have to cut funds," he said. "Where are those funds going to be cut? The devil's going to be in the details."
House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said it would take "raiding about $100 million from Medicaid" to make the numbers work.
Miley said that's concerning because West Virginia has a large population base that receives Medicaid health care benefits.
Both Prezioso and Miley said they're willing to work with the governor on the ideas he presented Wednesday night.
Miley was especially supportive of the governor's plan to improve affordability for community and technical college.
"The biggest concern I have from listening to his speech tonight — just by saying something is so, doesn’t make it real," Miley said. "It doesn’t make it a fact. It doesn’t make it reality."
He suggested the governor was more optimistic than realistic. Miley cited increased unemployment rates in all 55 counties, retail closures throughout the state, and 160 EQT layoffs in Harrison County.
"Things are not as good in West Virginia as he would like for you to believe," he said. "I'm not sure where he gets the ideas happy days are here again."
Miley said severance taxes have greatly aided the state's revenue, but those can't be credited to state leadership.
"There's been nothing to increase jobs in West Virginia, nothing to increase educational attainment levels. I hope what he's promoted tonight does some of that, but quite frankly, it lacked details whatsoever."
Miley's metaphor is this: last year, the state of West Virginia was like driving a car with four flat tires. This year, the car only has two flat tires. It's still not a fully functioning vehicle.
Referencing Justice's plan to eliminate equipment and inventory tax, Miley said, "Before we start giving all these tax breaks to all these large corporations, we need to make sure we’re taking care of West Virginians first."
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On the flip side, Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said he's pleased to see a budget without tax increases.
"We believe the people of West Virginia are already taxed enough, and they're not able to bear any additional tax burden."
Unlike Miley, Armstead sees the call to eliminate equipment and inventory tax as a positive. He called the tax a job killer.
"We truly believe for the first time there is a real possibility we can start the process of getting rid of this tax. It's very encouraging for the future of our state."
He called the governor's plan a "pro-growth" one, and he said he wants to work with Justice to make that a reality. While he admits the Legislature's relationship with the governor got off to a rough start, he's looking forward to a much better partnership moving forward.
"I'm excited. I think we see the governor and the Legislature moving in a lot of ways in the same direction."
Both parties seem to support Justice's plan to improve access to community and technical college.
Armstead said education is key in improving the quality of life for West Virginians, and to make more opportunities for young West Virginians to stay.
As for certain initiatives, he said he wants to look more closely at the budget to determine where the funding is coming from.
"At this point, we're not looking at where can we find additional revenue to balance the budget. We’re looking at growth in our revenue that has allowed us to at least put these things on the table and consider what we can afford to do."
While he said severance taxes have greatly helped, the state has seen a ripple effect from severance taxes in a number of areas.
He said the state has not seen growth in sales tax, but as more coal miners go back to work, and as other employment opportunities are becoming available, he believes increases will be seen in that sector, too.
"We truly see the trend moving in the right direction. We’re not out of the woods yet and we understand that, but we do see it going in the right direction. We have to be optimistic about that."
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, also said he's truly enthusiastic after the address.
"I am certain West Virginia’s best days are ahead," Carmichael said. "Governor Justice came in tonight with a strong message of unity and a team mentality, and that is what I believe it will take to tackle our biggest issues and move West Virginia forward."
He said he believes the goals set forth by the governor will "revolutionize our great state and put us on a path to growth and prosperity like never before.”
Wendy Holdren writes for the Beckley Register-Herald. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow on Twitter @WendyHoldren.