Something has to give in Charleston
Gov. Jim Justice’s veto last week of a budget bill sent to him by the West Virginia Legislature may have prompted some frustrated lawmakers to adopt a “back to square one” attitude. Let us hope the governor’s position is that reasonable.
During a press conference in which he had nothing good to say about the bill, Justice accused Republicans who passed the measure of killing a variety of important programs. Some of the governor’s complaints simply are not true.
For example, his claim the Legislature’s $4.102 billion plan would cut spending by $160 million is inaccurate. The amount is less than the $1.487 billion budget this year — but it does not take midyear spending cuts into account. When they are included, what lawmakers sent the governor would have reduced spending by only about $26 million.
A new round of negotiations on the budget was underway this week. It involved Justice, members of his staff and leaders from the Legislature.
Republicans who control both the House of Delegates and the state Senate want a restrained spending plan with few or no tax increases.
But to judge by the governor’s rhetoric, budget talks can have but one outcome acceptable to him — a major increase in spending fueled by $244 million in tax increases. West Virginians cannot afford that.
Justice’s chief of staff, Nick Casey, has hinted the governor may not call the Legislature back into session until he believes the framework for a new budget bill is firmly in place. But if Justice continues to demand his bigger government budget, that may never happen.
Something, or rather, someone, has to give for the state to have a new budget in place by July 1, when the new fiscal year begins.
That means both sides need to be negotiating from a clean sheet of paper — not with the Justice plan as a take-it-or-leave it obstacle. Unless that happens, it may be a long, hot spring.