Jim Justice took his oath of office on the steps of the state Capitol Monday, becoming the 36th governor of the state of West Virginia.
In his inaugural address, Justice focused on the challenges the state is facing and shared a message of hope as he committed to face those challenges head on after recounting many of the anecdotes he shared on the campaign trail.
“I want absolutely nothing, nothing. I don’t want a thing for me or my family in any way. All I want is goodness for this incredible state and its incredible people,” Justice said, a reason he often gave voters when asked why he was running for office.
The billionaire, who has made his money in the coal, agriculture and tourism industries, is perhaps best known in the state for his work at The Greenbrier Resort, in White Sulphur Springs. He also served a partial term on the Greenbrier County Board of Education and has said he will continue in his role as a high school basketball coach in Greenbrier County.
He thanked his players, who attended the ceremony and sat on stage surrounded by members of the West Virginia Legislature, the state’s congressional delegation and the newly sworn-in constitutional officers.
Justice described himself as a reasonable person, someone you can talk to, and he promised to bring that attitude to his new role as governor. He directly addressed legislative leaders of both parties who attended the ceremony.
“Those people, I’m going to look at as friends,” he said. “I’m going to trust them. I’m going to implore that some way, somehow, we get together and make greatness work.”
“There’s no point in dividing ourselves between Republicans and Democrats and Independents,” Justice added.
The new governor’s inaugural address seemed to preview the policy plans he will be expected to detail for lawmakers during his first state of the state address, in February.
Justice began by pointing to the largest challenge he will face as governor- the state’s budget.
“We have got to find a way to raise revenue,” he said. “We cannot continue to just kick the can down the road and drain more of the Rainy Day because we’re not going to go anywhere.”
Justice promised on the campaign trail he would not raise taxes on West Virginians, but during his address, said he was open to any new idea to tackle the problem.
A large portion of the speech focused on fixing the state’s ailing education system. That begins, Justice said, with a reduction in the number of bureaucrats overseeing it.
“I have an education plan right here that I’m going to submit immediately. It’s going to be the elimination of a bunch of unnecessary agencies,” Justice said. “It’s going to be a look at education in a different way that has never been looked at for a long, long, long time.”
As of Monday afternoon, the governor’s office had not made that plan public, but lawmakers have similarly been discussing reducing the bureaucracy of the state’s education system.
Recently, those discussions have been largely focused on getting rid of RESAs, or the state’s 8 Regional Education Service Agencies.
Justice touched on tackling other challenges, like the substance abuse epidemic he says is “cannibalizing us.” He said he’ll get Wall Street to invest in a plan to build roads and bridges, and he’ll market West Virginia as a tourist destination to compete with any in the country.
The coal company operator also discussed new plans for the state’s energy sector. Justice said he’ll propose a new structure for the state’s severance tax to help the coal and natural gas industries.
“I’m going to request that we tier the severance tax on coal and gas both in this way: when the companies are really hurting, I say we try to help, but on the other hand, when the companies are really winning, we’ve got to get more, too,” he said.
Both industries have taken hits during the past several years, resulting in decreased tax collections and fewer jobs, jobs Justice said he’ll find a way to bring back to West Virginia.
He ended his address with a message of hope. On the campaign trail, Justice often asked voters to close their eyes and imagine a better West Virginia.
He did that once again Monday, asking them to imagine a place where children attended the best schools in the country, where they drove on state of the art roads and bridges, where grandparents could have Sunday picnics with their grandchildren because they weren’t forced to leave the state to find work.
“We can do it,” he said. “We can do it. We will do it. It’s time for West Virginia to claim their place. It is truly West Virginia’s time.”
Justice’s term as the state’s 36th governor officially began at midnight Sunday. He will deliver his first State of the State Address to lawmakers on Feb. 8, when he will also present them with a plan to balance the 2018 budget and close a projected $400 million budget gap.