By DANYEL VANREENEN
Delegate Eric Householder, R-64th district, said Justice’s decision to veto the 2018 budget bill passed by both the House and Senate will further erode West Virginia’s economy.
“I was very surprised he rejected the budget, and really disappointed,” Householder said. “I was also upset with the comedy routine.”
During the press conference announcing his decision, Justice revealed a pile of bull manure to symbolize his feelings toward the proposed budget bill. Delegate Riley Moore, R-67th district, said the stunt has heightened tensions — potentially making conversation among leaders more difficult.
“Justice’s antics yesterday made the mood in Charleston more strident,” Moore said. “I don’t appreciate the jokes or the political games being made out a very serious issue. It makes a mockery of the state process.”
Now that the proposed budget has been vetoed, lawmakers will need to hold a special session to come up with a solution. There are a few different ways the special could develop, however.
Delegate Jason Barrett, D-61st district, said Justice could call a special session, or the Legislature could call themselves back for a special session with a super majority vote.
If Justice calls a special session, the Legislature can only deal with issues and bills he puts on call. However, if the Legislature calls itself back in session, they have more freedom in determining what measures can be addressed.
Barrett said representatives have heard rumors of a special session being called near the beginning of May. However, Moore said there could be benefits for the Republican leadership budget plans if the Legislature calls itself back into session.
“If we call ourselves back into session, we have more discretion about the agenda,” Moore said. “We may be able to add things like tax reform.”
Tax reform was a cornerstone of the Republican’s budget agenda during the 60 regular session, and Moore said he would be unsurprised if it comes up in conversation in the future.
According to Barrett and Moore, tax reform is one of the areas where Justice may be willing to compromise as well.
Barrett said Justice had made an agreement with Senate leadership during the last day of the regular session, however it was unable to be enacted due to time constraints. According to Barrett, the compromise would have included the Corporate Action Tax, which would levy $450 per $1 million in revenue for businesses in the state. The compromise also would have included raising the state sales tax to seven percent, decreasing the personal income tax by 20 percent if certain triggers were met, increasing the gas tax by 4.5 cents and increasing the DMV from $30 to $50.
Barrett said the agreement also would have eliminated certain sales tax exemptions for certain services like hair cuts and massages, and it would have included a pay raise for teachers.
Delegate Jill Upson, R-65th district, said the proposed budget was tough, but reasonable. Upson said she would have liked to see even further cuts to avoid taking approximately $90 million from the rainy day fund. However, Upson felt like the proposed budget represented the ideals Justice ran his campaign on because it did not raise taxes on West Virginians.
“Yes it was a tough budget, but we must live within our means,” Upson said.
Sen. Patricia Rucker, R-16th district, agreed that taxes on West Virginians should not be increased.
“There are a lot of people already having a hard time in this economy,” Rucker said. For Rucker, tax reform is the way to move the state forward and improve the economic situation in the long run. She also said citizen input is important for lawmakers who may feel removed from every day experiences in the state.
Although a compromise will need to be reached to move the state forward, Barrett, Householder and Moore said a compromise will be difficult.
“(The Democrats) are willing to work with the Republican leadership in the House, but they need to be committed as well,” Barrett said. “They need to step up and do what’s right for the state.”
Taxes on businesses are a red line, according to Moore, and he said he and the Republican Caucus will not support any tax increases to impede economic growth in the state.
Moore said the gas tax in particular will be harmful to the state.
“No one is in favor of raising the gas tax,” Moore said. “It will disproportionately affect the Eastern Panhandle.”
If an agreement is not reached by July 1, Householder said the state will face a government shutdown that will jeopardize education funds, the PROMISE scholarship, local emergency response agencies and many more things.
“By not signing the budget bill, Justice put everything at risk,” Householder said. “I don’t know what more we can do. Justice wants a $450 million increase in spending and tax increases. He came to the Republican Caucus in February and said he wouldn’t entertain any budget we put forward. He’s acting like a schoolyard bully.”
However, all lawmakers agreed they want to avoid a shut down in July.
“It’s a big unknown right now,” Upson said. “We don’t know how willing to compromise the governor is. We’ll have to see when we go back for the special session.”
Staff writer Danyel VanReenen can be reached at 304-263-8931, ext. 131, or on Twitter @DVanReenenJN.