FAIRMONT — Gov. Jim Justice continues to push for eliminating the state income tax.
In a recent visit to Fairmont, Justice was asked how can WVU Medicine and the state justify spending $110 million to expand and rebuild Fairmont Medical Center in a state that continues to lose residents. He took that as an opportunity to push for eliminating the state’s income tax, a move that was defeated in the 2021 legislative session.
“We needed to pass the personal income tax, getting rid of that, to tell you the truth,” Justice said. “And, I know that sounds maybe challenging because you just don’t really understand all the intricacies of what I’m saying.”
He said no matter what “we do,” the state continues to lose population. He said, however, all is not lost.
“We got all kinds of goodness going on, you know, everywhere, and we still lose population,” Justice said. “We’ve gotta’ solve that riddle, don’t we?”
He said the Mountain State cannot sit by and expect the loss in population to stop.
“I mean, West Virginia’s got surplus after surplus from the standpoint of where we were — and I don’t say this egotistically, but I just say it factually — when I walked in the door, I mean, honest to goodness, we were bankrupt and things have really changed,” Justice said.
He said the state will continue to lose population if drastic measures are not put in place.
He said the recent U.S. Census report about West Virginia losing population, “Tells us everything,” as does “This remote worker thing tells us everything,” he said.
In a recently-launched program to lure 50 remote workers to Morgantown, Justice said more than 150,000 people viewed the website to learn about the program.
“And 10,000 people filled out an hour-long application to come to West Virginia from every state in the country ... every state in the United States plus six foreign countries for 50 spots,” Justice said. “People want to come, they really, really want to come... and I’ll promise you, you just don’t understand, you just plain don’t understand.”
He said the media focused on the wrong things in the debate over eliminating the state income tax. He said the media focused on increasing the state sales tax too much.
“But, every, every numbers expert that we had, modeled everything out, and the bottom line was just this — I was going to send you checks for $3,000 and you would probably have to pay $700 throughout the year in sales tax or whatever it may be,” Justice said. “Who in the world wouldn’t want that?”
Justice said eliminating the state income tax would have allowed “us to bring lots and lots of folks to West Virginia,” he said.
He said residents would have spent the remainder of their $3,000 checks at local businesses, therefore acting as a driver in local economies in the state.
Justice said one of the bright spots in the recent Census was that West Virginia had the highest participation of any state in the U.S.
“We were in a race with, I forget who it was, Alaska, or whoever it was, to be the best counted of all, and when the Census came out, we were the very best counted,” Justice said. “What if we’d been counted like we’d been counted 10 years ago? Well, we wouldn’t even have a Congressional seat — we’d be a state park.”
At the same time, Justice admitted the new and expanded Fairmont Medical Center would be a factor in attracting new residents to Marion County.
“Any mountain you’ve ever climbed in your life — any mountain — it’s always steepest right at the top,” Justice said. “If we don’t do something to get over the top, honest and true, when everything filters out, we’ll slide way back down. It won’t be good.”
Albert Wright Jr., president and CEO of WVU Medicine, echoed Justice’s comment that class-A health care could also play a factor in luring seniors to an area for their retirement years.
“One of the things — along with great schools — that folks want to have when they move to a community is great health care, right,” Wright said Friday in a press conference with Justice at Fairmont Medical Center. “And that’s one thing WVU Medicine can help control and you need to have great health care around the state and that’s why we’re trying to build out spectacular capabilities in Morgantown and an integrated health care system all around the state of West Virginia.”
Wright and Justice came to Fairmont Friday to announce a multi-year plan to add 30 skilled nursing beds at the campus on Locust Avenue, and a new central energy plant. The plan also calls for adding 40 new inpatient beds, operating and procedure rooms and demolishing old parts of the building that were constructed in 1939 and 1942 because they do not meet the standards of a land grant university health care system, such as WVU Medicine.
WVU Medicine took over the former Fairmont Regional Medical Center last year after its owner, Alecto Healthcare Services LLC, closed the hospital and laid off 528 employees. Citing the loss of $19 million over a three-year period and no buyer, the company handed its employees layoff letters on February 18, 2020.
At present Fairmont Medical Center, a campus of J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, has 42 beds and 10 for the emergency department.