By LACIE PIERSON
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The leaders of the Republican-led chambers of the West Virginia Legislature and the state’s Democratic governor on Thursday encouraged legislators to be courageous in dealing with the Mountain State’s nearly $500 million budget shortfall for 2018.
Where the three men differed was which actions defined courage, according to their comments during the West Virginia Press Association’s 2017 Legislative Breakfast at Embassy Suites in Charleston.
In front of Mountain State reporters and legislators, Gov. Jim Justice called on legislators to limit cuts to state government only to areas of truly “unnecessary waste.” House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, countered that he wanted legislators to cut spending before considering any tax or fee increases, including those proposed by Justice.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, laid out his four-pillar plan to make West Virginia a better place, which included regulatory reform, education reform, civil justice reform and tax reform.
Prior to Justice’s arrival at the event, Armstead said he understood the governor’s reference to the health of the state to that of a hospital patient.
“One thing I think we need to ask when we talk about the patient is who is the patient?” Armstead said. “When we talk about the patient, I want to really point out that the patient is a little different than what (Justice’s) current budget proposal would indicate. The patient isn’t government. To me, the patient is the economy of our state and every man, woman and child in West Virginia.”
Armstead said in terms of treating a patient, instead of “treating” the patient in the form of the government, state legislators need to treat the patients throughout the state by providing more local control and flexibility to local boards of education, county governments and small-business owners while reducing additional spending on the state level.
“What we can do in Charleston is to give them that flexibility, that ability to get in and reach those students in unique ways,” Armstead said. “We don’t need to control the minutia of everything every small business does in West Virginia. We need to make sure high standards are set, but we need to give that flexibility to those who are working to employ our citizens throughout our state.”
In his address, Justice stuck to his themes of West Virginians thinking big and uniting regardless of political party, although he did call out Republicans and Democrats by party in terms of their budget-balancing strategies.
Justice put the terms of compromise in his patented brand of analogy.
“It doesn’t make one hill of beans of sense to me to say you like Alaska, and I like the desert, so we are going to end up in Iowa,” Justice said. “Let’s only end up in Iowa if that’s the right place to end up. Let’s only do the right things. Let’s only put us on the pathway of righteousness. Absolutely we can do this. You need to commend the Democrats for what they’ve done and respect and love the Republicans for what they’re trying to do. But I am telling you at the end of the day, this process needs to land in the right spot.”
Carmichael’s themes of reform hit upon similar topics to Armstead and Justice, including leading the state to prominence and out of last place in every way states are measured during the last 30 days of the 60-day legislative session.
Carmichael projected the work of this legislature to that of the New England Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl — primed for a comeback in the second half.
“It is incumbent upon us as legislators and as people who want to move this state forward to examine the results of states that are working,” Carmichael said. “So there’s not a person in this room that doesn’t want growth and prosperity and opportunity. And for us to deny an opportunity for that to come to fruition would be a dereliction of our duty.”
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