SLAB FORK, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice touted his highways construction program that would be financed by higher taxes and fees as he launched a statewide tour to promote the plan that he says would create tens of thousands of jobs in West Virginia.
Justice told a crowd in Slab Fork that the tax increases would not be permanent and would only serve as a stop-gap measure, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported.
“I know it’s going to hurt a little bit in the beginning, but it’s going to be so good that you won’t believe it,” Justice told more than 200 people who attended the launch of his statewide tour on Sunday, Feb. 19.
Justice said that without the increases, the state will continue to suffer economically.
“We’re too good to die, but we’re all dying,” Justice said. “We’re right on the verge, right on the verge of doing something that will be the detriment of West Virginia forever.”
He said the state has already cut too much, and tax increases are the best solution.
“In order to get to the sacred ground of ‘balance the budget,’ there’s got to be more than ‘balance the budget.’ You got to find a way to grow,” the governor said. “If all we do is try to balance the budget, we’re going to die.”
Justice’s highways construction program would be financed through a $20 increase in the annual license plate renewal fee, a 10-cents-per-gallon increase in the state gasoline tax and a $1 increase in turnpike tolls. Justice said the plan would create 48,000 jobs.
The King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway in Southern West Virginia would be a primary focus of the construction program. The project has been delayed due to the decline of the coal mining industry. Justice, a Raleigh County native, said the project would put unemployed coal miners back to work. Multiple towns throughout the area are not connected to the highway system.
When completed, the Coalfields Expressway will be about 65 miles long. Only eight miles are open to drivers today.
Justice also proposed a business park called the Mountain State Connector that would serve as a backup to government data in case of a federal government breach or private banking breach. Justice said the location would be in a 250-mile radius from Washington, D.C., and serve as a modern-day equivalent to The Greenbrier’s secret bunker built in the 1960s to house Congress in the case of a nuclear disaster.
“West Virginia is the logical connector to be a backup system for all of that information,” Justice said.
Justice said he’d propose the plan to President Donald Trump soon.