Justice talks economic opportunities with cities, towns
HUNTINGTON — Gov. Jim Justice told mayors, city managers and council members from around the state Thursday that despite some good economic signs for the state, there was still much to be done.
Justice addressed attendees of the West Virginia Municipal League’s 50th annual Conference at Big Sandy Superstore Arena in Huntington Thursday. The municipal league represents 231 municipalities across the state — cities, towns and villages.
“You are our engines,” Justice told attendees. “You are everything to this state. Everything starts with you. You are the ones who drive the boat. From that standpoint, I want you to know that I want to help in any and every way I can.”
Justice said the state’s economy has come a long way since he took office in January 2017. The state has seen two fiscal years of month-by-month surpluses from improved tax collections, he said.
West Virginia had the highest percentage gross domestic product growth in the nation for January through March. During the same time period, the state also had the highest percentage of personal income growth.
“West Virginia is doing better right now,” Justice said. “You have to be able to see it. I don’t care if you’re at the Dairy Queen or a used car lot or wherever you may be, it’s better.”
While these are all things West Virginia can be proud of, Justice said there are still people struggling out there who need help. He encouraged the attendees to not settle, but to continue to dig in and help the state to improve.
“We could sit back on our laurels and we could say we’ve done better. We could say look at how great we’ve done,” Justice said. “We’re finally on the launchpad. We haven’t launched to the degree that we can. It’s just sitting here waiting on us right now. We are finally out of the hole…but we still have a lot of challenges and things we’ve got to do.”
Despite a rosy economic outlook overall, Justice raised concerns about coal. According to an article by S&P Market Intelligence, even with changes to federal rules by President Donald Trump and repeals of emissions limits under former President Barack Obama, owners of power plants were still shutting down coal-burning units or converting them to use natural gas.
During the regular session, lawmakers passed legislation lowering the severance tax rate on steam coal used in power plants from 5 percent to 3 percent over the next three fiscal years, and tax credits to encourage the reopening or expansion of coal mines. During the special session, the legislature passed a $12.5 million business and occupation tax break for FirstEnergy Solutions to keep Pleasants Power Station — a coal-fired power plant — open past its 2022 deactivation date.
Justice warned attendees that reductions in the price of coal per ton could also be a real issue for the state. The governor said he spoke with President Trump Tuesday about these issues. The two have previously talked about plans to subsidize coal, including having the federal government pay an incentive for utilities to use coal mined in the Eastern United States.
“The thing I would say so much: you have a President who is really batting for you and a President who is my best buddy,” Justice said. “We’re talking about a coal plan that will ensure our miners not only stay at work, but we even grow coal jobs.”
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