CHARLESTON — Area officials on both sides of the aisle were overall pleased with Gov. Jim Justice’s State of the State address Wednesday evening, stating the governor made it clear he has compassion for the people of West Virginia.
Justice focused his speech on highlighting the successes the state has made over the past three years of his leadership and gave some insight into his priorities during what budget officials called a “flat” budget year. Some of those priorities include eliminating the intellectual/developmental disability waiver waitlist, additional support for food banks and senior meal delivery, and creating a Medicaid rainy day fund.
Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, said he thought the governor showed great compassion for West Virginians, especially when he touched on issues affecting the state’s children and seniors. He said while he still needs to review the actual budget proposed by the governor, he was pleased to hear the governor respect those issues in this tight budget year.
Plymale will also focus on children this session. He said he plans to introduce a bill to beef up support for early childhood services, especially the Birth to Three program, which he said hasn’t been touched in 15 years.
“It’s a good way to address children in the crosshairs of opioid addiction,” he said.
Marshall University President Jerome Gilbert also said he thought the governor’s address showed compassion.
“I was pleased to hear his support for food pantries,” Gilbert said. “We’ve recently opened a new food pantry on Marshall’s campus, and we are having success. I was also glad to hear Huntington and Marshall are having great success toward the opioid epidemic. That really shows the hard work of our medical school and city. Overall it was a positive message.”
Gilbert said he will keep an eye out for any bills allowing the carrying of firearms on college campuses, but he doesn’t think any legislation of the sort will get much traction. He and the other presidents of higher learning are also pushing for a new funding model that would be based on productivity, similar to the model in Tennessee.
Del. Matt Rohrbach, R-Cabell, and Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell, both said they were pleased the governor highlighted the positive work that was done last session.
“I was happy he mentioned substance use, because we can’t move forward unless we get that under control,” Rohrbach said.
Rohrbach said he supports eliminating the business inventory tax, which has been considered the past two years, but he said it cannot happen unless the counties are made whole. He said based on his address, he thinks the governor agrees.
Rohrbach and Linville were also pleased to hear the governor support Speaker Roger Hanshaw’s Mountain Impact Fund, which would provide capital to start new business in the state.
Linville said he really enjoyed Justice allowing Cabell County resident and Medal of Honor recipient Hershel “Woody” Williams to speak at the governor’s podium. Linville will be sponsoring a bill based on an idea brought to him by Williams that will create a state Medal of Valor for first responders.
Del. Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, said he was surprised the governor addressed hunger in his speech, and he was happy with plans to expand backpack programs in schools, provide more vans for senior meals and to eliminate the IDD waiver. Still, Lovejoy said overall, there is a lot of work to be done.
“We need to focus on not only making it a place you can survive, but a place that working families can thrive,” Lovejoy said. “I appreciate talking about some success, but we can’t forget there are still a lot of working families in our area back home that are still suffering and maybe not feeling all the backslapping great things discussed. … We have to focus on policies that will keep our young people here.”
Del. Evan Worrell, R-Cabell, was also pleased with the health priorities of the governor, including the Medicaid reserve fund and ensuring more access to food for all West Virginians. Other things the governor mentioned, Worrell wasn't so sure of, however.
"We just want our roads fixed and maintained," Worrell said. "Before we start putting money into a futuristic travel pod, let's make sure West Virginians can drive on roads that aren't riddled with potholes or falling in. I would also rather see tax reform for our citizens before investing in other technologies."