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Closing Concord?: Delegates call Justice’s comments a political ploy


Bluefield Telegraph

BECKLEY, W.Va.  — Gov. Jim Justice kicked a hornet’s nest when he said Monday that the GOP-proposed cuts to higher education would have meant closing Concord University and Fairmont State University.

Justice made the comments at an editorial board meeting with Beckley’s Register-Herald.

“If I would have just signed the budget, we would have had a catastrophe with higher education,” he said. “Universities would have raised their tuition like crazy, services would have been lost and schools would have ended up having to close.”

He specifically mentioned Concord and Fairmont being closed.

Area legislators were quick to respond.

Del. John Shott, R-Mercer, said Justice’s statement about the closures makes no sense.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer

“He doesn’t have that authority (to close a college),” Shott said. “That would take legislation.”

Shott said it’s nothing more than a political ploy on Justice’s part.

“That is one of his heavy-handed ploys to try to intimidate people” into going along with his plans, he said. “We are open to discussions (about the budget). But we will hold to our commitment not to raise taxes unless it is absolutely necessary.”

Shott said Justice “abandoned his promises” and is trying to place a heavy tax burden on West Virginians, which is not something the Republicans will do.

“But we are willing to talk about it and seek solutions,” he said.

Del. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, agrees that the statement was all about politics, not substance.

“I think this is more of his childish blather we are hearing from the Governor when he is trying to scare someone into doing what he wants,” he said. “There is no reason why Concord would have to close. I don’t understand it.”

Gearheart said funding was in the last budget for Concord and it will be in the next one.

“It is just a scare tactic to get legislators on board with him,” he said. “It’s like some of the other scare tactics that he uses.”

Delegate Marty Gerheart, R-Mercer

Gearheart said there is no way any budget passed will defund Concord.

“That is sort of sad,” he said of Justice’s remarks and tactics. “But it’s just the way he does business. When I do business, it’s done with respect and he doesn’t know how to do that.”

Del. Ed Evans, D-McDowell, has generally supported many of Justice’s plans, but he does not agree with the Governor on his statement.

“I don’t think it (the cuts to higher education) would have been that severe,” he said. “I don’t think it would close them. But it would be a hardship for sure.”

Evans said he can’t speak for the Governor about how to describe his tactics.

 “I think he’s got a goal in mind and this may be one of the ways he is getting the public’s support in reaching that goal,” he said. “I think he does it because he wants to achieve something.”

That being said, Evans agreed with Gearheart and Shott that the universities will not close.

He also agrees that both parties need to get together in a special budget session, which the Governor will call, and find a compromise.

Delegate Ed Evans, D-McDowell

However, Evans said that compromise cannot be one that negates the possibility of establishing some new revenue streams.

“I think as we get closer to the next fiscal year deadline (June 30), it (a compromise) is going to get done,” he said. “But it can’t be just cuts. It can’t.”

Evans said there has to be some type of revenue stream brought into the state or legislators will be simply be “kicking the can down the road.”

Constituents who have contacted him, he said, expressed opposition to the proposed gas tax hike of 4.5 cents on a gallon, but not to other proposals, including a small hike in the sales tax and a tax increase on cigarettes.

“Everybody seemed to be okay with those things (other than the gas tax),” he said. “They know the state has to do what it’s got to do in order to keep going.”

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