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Hoping for change of heart

In just one week, the 60-day legislative session will have come to a close. Since February 8, the Senate has sent 267 bills over to the House for consideration, and in the coming days, many of those will become law.

While most of this session has been completely under the umbrella of the Legislature’s goal of passing a conservative, balanced budget – in spite of a new Governor who completely reneged on his central campaign promise – there have been a number of bills that have made me proud of our work. From strengthening penalties for child abuse to encouraging development of our state’s abundant natural resources, the Senate and House have tackled nearly every issue imaginable. And, in most cases, we did it with a strong spirit of bipartisanship and the shared goal of making West Virginia a better place.

That’s not to say this session hasn’t been without its challenges and absurdities. If you had told me back on February 8 about some of the events that would unfold over the next month and a half, I would have just laughed. I wouldn’t have believed it for a minute. What I did learn? Expect the unexpected, and adjust. I believe that the Republican majorities in both houses here have done an outstanding job of doing just that. I’m convinced in our final week of the session, we’ll be tested even more.

In a matter of days, we will submit our budget to the Governor, and then we will wait. The Legislature will wait to see if the Governor is willing to accept a budget that does not provide him with everything he wanted. If his behavior up to this point helps anybody read the tea leaves, it’s not likely. This Governor loves to brag about how he’s almost had a budget deal, and he’s always willing to compromise, but what he always leaves out is that compromise to Governor Jim Justice works one way: His. Good luck to everybody else.

The Governor wants to make this seem as if fixing this budget crisis is a very simple choice: life or death, with “life” being humongous tax increases and “death” being a budget that requires West Virginia to live within its means. It would be great if it were actually that easy, but it’s not as black and white as he’d have you believe.

The choices the Senate has made in putting together our budget have been some of the most difficult any of us will ever face. It’s not a choice between life and death, it’s a choice between life and life. Every item in the budget, every line, represents a person. None of these decisions have been made lightly. If these choices were truly as easy as Governor Justice would lead you to believe, he wouldn’t have run screaming toward the first tax increase he could find, and certainly wouldn’t have spent the next seven weeks on the road trying to convince a very suspicious public that his plan was the only way. Throwing more money at a problem rarely, if ever, solves it.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how in Charleston, it seems to be the rule rather than the exception that we embrace fear when it comes to making tough calls. The status quo rarely has its critics. As we go through the final week, we will face long hours and tough days that will try all of us to the core. It’s the kind of trial by fire that comes along once in a lifetime, and I believe the right team is in place to lead this state on its pathway to a better future.

When the Republican leadership stood in front of the media and pledged to deliver a budget that respected the taxpayers of West Virginia, we meant it. It’s my hope in his consideration of what we submit, that the Governor has a change of heart and maybe starts to respect the taxpayers a little bit himself.

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