<strong>By Phil Kabler\r\n<\/strong><strong>For the WV Press Association<\/strong>\r\n<h1>What may go down in history as one of the most unusual and colorful State of the State addresses also opened what could become one of the most contentious legislative sessions in recent memory.<\/h1>\r\nAbandoning the traditional elements of the speech, including the speaker\u2019s dais, teleprompters, and a prepared text, Gov. Jim Justice gave his 52-minute address Wednesday from amid press row on the floor of House chambers, frequently using markers on a whiteboard to illustrate his points.\r\n\r\nEven though his speech included jokes, self-deprecating humor, and even a Frankenstein reference, Justice\u2019s message was anything but humorous. He warned that the state\u2019s financial situation is \u201cbeyond dire\u201d and that the Legislature must work with him to take bold steps - including $450 million in tax increases in the short-term - to assure the state\u2019s survival.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe\u2019re dying. We are dying. It\u2019s so blooming bad, you can\u2019t possibly imagine,\u201d Justice warned, while adding, \u201cThere\u2019s a way out. Prosperity is in front of us.\u201d\r\n\r\nCurrently, the Legislature has to close a nearly $500 million budget deficit in the 2017-18 state budget, a shortfall that Justice warned is on pace to grow to $700 million next year.\r\n\r\nFor the short-term, the way out Justice proposed includes tax hikes, including a 1\/2 percent increase in the consumer sales tax, to 6.5 percent, to raise $92.7 million a year, and a 0.2 percent gross receipts tax on state businesses to raise $214.3 million annually.\r\n\r\nJustice also proposed selling more than $1.4 billion in bonds for highways and transportation construction projects, to be funded with a 10-cent a gallon increase in the gas tax, an increase in license plate fees from $30 to $50 a year, and a $1 increase in West Virginia Turnpike tolls.\r\n\r\nHe called the road construction plan the \u201c800-pound gorilla in the room,\u201d for the state\u2019s economy, saying that it will create some 48,000 jobs, will make state tourism \u201cexplode,\u201d and will put displaced miners back to work.\r\n\r\nHowever, the proposed tax increases drew sharp criticism from the Republican-controlled Legislature.\r\n\r\nSenate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said he was \u201cincredibly disappointed\u201d that Justice proposed major tax increases after he had seemingly opposed tax increases during the governor\u2019s race.\r\n<h2>\u201cIt wasn\u2019t the expectation of the voters throughout the campaign process,\u201d Carmichael said.<\/h2>\r\nHouse Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, effectively declared that Justice\u2019s tax increase proposals would be dead on arrival in the House of Delegates.\r\n\r\n\u201cWe had hoped that this governor would live up to his campaign promises of restructuring government and not putting additional tax burdens on our citizens, and to hear his proposal to balance our budget almost entirely with tax increases was a significant disappointment,\u201d Armstead said.\r\n\r\nJustice administration officials said the governor had asked for a list of possible budget cuts, as well as a list of potential sources of new revenue, and ultimately concluded the state can\u2019t cut its way out of its budget deficit.\r\n\r\nTo make his point, Justice provided legislators with an \u201calternative budget plan\u201d that would balance the budget by cutting state spending by $450 million.\r\n\r\nFilling a full page, those cuts would require entirely eliminating general revenue funding for most state colleges and universities, as well as for a variety of programs, including Promise scholarships, senior services, in-home care for seniors, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Health Right Free clinics, grants to public libraries, among 21 other program cuts.\r\n\r\nThe cuts would eliminate nearly 3,000 state jobs, according to the governor\u2019s office.\r\n\r\n\u201cAre you willing to eliminate all of our state parks? Are you willing to close all our colleges and universities except for Marshall and WVU?\u201d Justice asked legislators.\r\n\r\nAs the first week of the 2017 regular session wound down, the stage appears set for a showdown between Justice, who believes tax increases are the only option to guide the state through the budget crisis, and legislative leaders, who are adamant against raising new taxes.\r\n\r\nLast year, the Legislature\u2019s reluctance to pass a tax increase led to a 92-day budget impasse that stretched into June, with a July 1 shutdown of state government looming.\r\n\r\nThat impasse was finally broken on June 13, when the House of Delegates approved a $98 million increase in tobacco taxes, the final piece of a plan to close a $270 million shortfall in the 2016-17 state budget - a shortfall that is less than half of the current budget deficit.