However, he does plan to propose legislation next week that would increase revenues for the state’s unemployment compensation fund, if mounting layoffs reduce it to critical levels.
Employers fuel the fund through a tax drawn from payroll. Manchin suggested that if triggered, the funding increase would be spread across ‘‘everybody’’ but declined to elaborate.
‘‘I hope we never have to use it,’’ the governor told reporters and editors Thursday at the annual Legislative Lookahead conference held by The Associated Press. ‘‘We don’t foresee it happening.’’
West Virginia had $232 million for jobless benefits Dec. 31, the latest date for figures, after paying out $18.4 million that month. Twenty-nine states drew down from their funds at greater rates, according to a recent analysis by the National Conference for State Legislatures.
‘‘By the time the session starts, we hope to have a plan that would be fair to everybody, but we are still working on it,’’ Manchin spokesman Matt Turner said after the conference.
Manchin said the massive layoffs announced Wednesday by Century Aluminum show how vulnerable West Virginia is to global economic woes. Most of the Jackson County plant’s 651 workers will lose their jobs when it’s shuttered Feb. 20. It came amid a growing stream of layoff news from employers across the state.
‘‘This is going to be a more challenging time,’’ Manchin said. ‘‘I’m just working like the Dickens and hoping that the economy delivers so that we won’t have to raise taxes.’’
Manchin has vowed not to hike taxes since winning re-election in November. He stood by that pledge for general revenue taxes, which are paid by businesses and individuals and include levies on sales, income, extracted natural resources and tobacco and alcohol products.
‘‘The average person will not feel the pinch on the daily staples of life,’’ Manchin said.
He instead suggested that the state may further the spate of modest, gradual tax cuts that marked his first term, while adding that the recession has forced him to shelve some of his plans.
‘‘We will do one more tax relief (measure), more relief for our working people,’’ the governor said, again without elaborating. ‘‘If we keep this state lean, we’re going to be in a competitive position.’’
With the 60-day legislative session starting Wednesday, Manchin said his 2009 agenda also includes benchmarks for an alternative renewable energy portfolio. He also promised to be ‘‘more aggressive yet still’’ on expanding health care coverage. He will outline his proposals in Wednesday’s State of the State address.
The governor was also asked about the estimated $1.4 billion West Virginia might get from a possible federal stimulus bill. While praising fellow Democrat President Barack Obama, Manchin questioned how the state would continue paying for new jobs at schools and elsewhere once the temporary largesse ends.
‘‘This country wasn’t built on handouts,’’ Manchin said. ‘‘We didn’t become leader of the free world by waiting on someone to give us a handout.’’
Manchin’s office had requested nearly $2.3 billion for ready-to-go projects when Obama first proposed a stimulus package. The list sent to the White House included education-related items as well as road, bridge, water, sewer, public safety and recreation projects.
Associated Press Staff Writer Tom Breen contributed to this report.