Gov. Jim Justice urged state tourism industry leaders Monday to advocate for his plan to jump-start the state economy — a plan that is encountering blowback from the Republican-controlled Legislature.
“We’re going to win this battle,” Justice said. “I’m going to tell you, they do have a griz on their ass, and we aren’t going to back off. That’s all there is to it.”
Justice was referring to a metaphor he used earlier in the session, when he compared a legislator constantly critical of his proposals to a poodle barking at a Grizzly bear.
Tourism is a key component in Justice’s plan to close a $500 million deficit in the 2017-18 state budget and to grow the economy with investment in economic development projects and roads and infrastructure.
Justice — whose business empire includes tourism destinations The Greenbrier and Glade Springs Resort — has proposed increasing funding for tourism advertising and marketing by $10.6 million, including $5.6 million from increasing the state beer tax and raising the wholesale markup on liquor.
“They said, ‘No, wax that,’” Justice said of legislative opposition to his plans, which include raising about $350 million in new taxes.
Legislative leadership last week unveiled the “framework” of their budget counterproposal, which is to cap the 2017-18 general revenue spending at $4.05 billion — about $390 million less than the current budget.
Justice said it is unfortunate that leadership has attempted to frame the debate as “raise taxes versus live within your means.”
“You’re an idiot if you think that,” Justice said at one point.
“It’s absolutely ludicrous to portray it that way,” he said. “It should be portrayed as recovery or death.”
Further constricting or eliminating state programs and services will continue to drive people out of the state, Justice said.
“Anything you do, here’s the question you should ask: By doing that, do we think more people are going to come to West Virginia, or more people are going to leave?” he said.
Justice said his administration has been working to eliminate waste and consolidate positions in state government, but said legislators who believe the budget can be balanced strictly by eliminating wasteful spending are mistaken.
“You go find it, and you know what you’re going to do? You’re going to chase, and chase and chase your tail, and you’re going to come up with a number like $18 million or $12 million.”
Justice said his tax plan is designed so everyone — consumers, businesses and the wealthy — all share a small burden, and was highly critical Monday of a tax proposal being considered by the Senate to reduce income taxes, corporate net and severance taxes, shifting the burden to consumers with a broad-based 8 percent sales tax.
“Who’s winning and who’s losing? You know who’s winning? Me. The rich guy’s winning,” he said of the Senate plan. “The guy that’s losing is the guy that can hardly afford to do anything today.”
Justice spoke for nearly a half-hour to members of the state Tourism Commission, and board members from the West Virginia Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, and the West Virginia Hospitality and Travel Association, visiting the Capitol Monday for Tourism Day at the Legislature.
Near the end of Justice’s remarks, Visit Southern West Virginia president Doug Maddy stated, “Governor, we’re with you.”
“We can do this, but you’ve got to let your voices be heard,” Justice responded.
Reach Phil Kabler at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.