By Lexi Browning
For the WV Press Association
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Talks of budget and business innovation led conversation Thursday morning at the annual West Virginia Press Association Legislative Breakfast.
Gov. Jim Justice, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Speaker of the House Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, each addressed the crowd of media, legislators and local business representatives from across the Mountain State during the political portion of the conference, held at the Embassy Suites in Charleston.
West Virginia Press Association Executive Director Don Smith moderated the panels.
In his presentation, President Carmichael outlined the Senate’s priorities for the session, including regulatory, tax, education and civil justice reform. Carmichael said he likened the budget situation to the second half of the 2017 SuperBowl, comparing West Virginia to the New England Patriots.
Speaker Armstead said although House Republicans and House Democrats may frequently disagree, they still work diligently together, especially on financial matters. “We’re taking this budget incredibly seriously,” Armstead said, noting the tediousness of the process. “We’re working day in and day out on this. The finance committee is already working late hours to create a budget formula that will truly move the state forward.”
Armstead said it was vital for the state to understand the state’s shortfalls and identify ways in which it could be stabilized. “To me, when I talk about the patient that is the state, that’s the economy and every man, woman and child in West Virginia, not the government” said Armstead, adopting a metaphor Gov. Justice has used.
Gov. Justice, who has been registered as a Republican and Democrat in previous years, said he understood both perspectives but reminded legislators that the state’s well-being should come first, regardless of political alliances.
“I ran as a Democrat because I could never understand why [Republicans] did what they did or understand their logic,” Justice said. “They thought they had to do something that hurt and therefore show off a red badge of courage to say that they’d cut this but hurt some people. But you’ve got to remember that every time you cut, though, it’s somebody.”
Justice said the only “real pathway to prosperity” could be made through compromises with revenue and taxes.
“We need to commend the Democrats for what they’ve done and respect the Republicans for what they’re trying to do,” Justice said.
Cabinet Secretary of Commerce Woody Thrasher opened the panel on business, talking about the significant role of Commerce and Tourism in the state.
“Tourism is so important to the state of West Virginia,” Thrasher said. “I fundamentally believe it should not be a stepchild to anybody. It’s a dynamic piece of our economic puzzle.
Jennifer Taylor, attorney and ombudsman for the West Virginia Financial Exploitation Task Force, said now more than ever, she and her staff work relentlessly to educate residents about the dangers of exploitation of older citizens, specifically in cases against family members.
Last fall, Taylor was invited to speak to the Federal Trade Commission and said members were shocked to find that West Virginia’s task force was volunteer-based. Several members even questioned the team’s motivation without financial or business incentives
“‘We do this because we’re West Virginians,” Taylor said. “We care and we take pride in our state and care about our senior population. We’re dedicated to fighting financial exploitation; We don’t care about a budget.”
Taylor said the task force would urge lawmakers to support the proposed disinheritance bill, which would prevent individuals who had financially exploited relatives from receiving any inheritance.
Additional business panelists included Paul Lauttamus, CEO of Lauttamus Communications and Security, Anne Blankenship of the W.Va. Oil and Natural Gas Association, and Brett Loflin, vice president of Northeast Natural Energy.