20200112-hdo-edit-justice

AP Photo/Chris Jackson Gov. Jim Justice describes his goals for the Legislature's regular session as he delivers his annual State of the State address in the House of Delegates chambers at the State Capitol on January 8.

Unlike the president’s State of the Union speech or a presidential inaugural address, the annual State of the State speech given by the governor to kick off the annual regular session of the Legislature rarely contains memorable rhetorical flourishes.

There’s almost never an “ask not what your country can do for you” or “with malice toward none; with charity for all” moment.

So it was Wednesday night when Gov. Jim Justice gave his fourth State of the State speech. Perhaps its most memorable moment was when Justice had state road workers pass out orange safety vests to legislators as a reminder of progress the governor says has been made on improving the state’s transportation network.

Other than that, by the time a full seven days has passed, little will be remembered from the governor’s speech. The governor proposes; the Legislature disposes.

To quote a more memorable speech, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” Voters don’t judge a legislative session by the words spoken at its start. They judge a session by the results they see at the end. From early indications, the welfare of children, especially those affected by their parents’ drug addiction, is a priority for legislators of both parties. Likewise eliminating a waiting list for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who seek Medicaid waivers.

“We need to focus on not only making it a place where you can survive, but a place that working families can thrive,” Delegate Chad Lovejoy, D-Cabell, said. “We can’t forget there are still a lot of working families in our area back home that are still suffering and maybe not feeling all the backslapping great things discussed.”

That’s a good way of putting it.

People want to see their roads in good shape, their public schools providing good educations, higher education being affordable and first responders in reasonable numbers and adequately trained and equipped. They want a state that encourages economic growth and the opportunities that come with it.

All that must be done within a reasonable tax structure.

If the Legislature gets that done, then its members can backslap all they want.

State government’s budget looms over every session, and this year is no different. Every piece of legislation passed by the Legislature and sent to the governor for his signature will affect the budget. Justice’s budget proposal for 2020-21 is relatively flat compared with this year’s budget, but trouble ahead is likely as the coal industry shrinks and severance tax collections decline.

Long term, the governor’s annual budget report predicts problems ahead as revenues fail to keep up with spending increases. The obvious solutions are increasing tax revenues, decreasing spending or a combination of the two.

That, of course, is a problem.

By now bills are being introduced and evaluated in committees. Both parties are advancing their agendas and looking to gain an upper hand in the upcoming elections.

Political junkies will focus on the process. Most voters will focus on the results. Will the actions of the Legislature improve the lives of average West Virginians? Will the consequences of lawmakers’ actions improve the ability of local government to deliver its own services?

Many if not most members of the Legislature want to answer those questions in the affirmative. They have about 60 days to do so.

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