By JESS MANCINI
The Parkersburg News and Sentinel
PARKERSBURG, W.Va. — The governor of West Virginia Thursday said he wants authority from the Legislature to furlough state employees by executive order because of the budget crisis.
“Because West Virginia’s finances are such a dog’s mess, furlough legislation is a necessary precaution to stop the bleeding if we don’t act,” Gov. Jim Justice said. “West Virginia’s credit was downgraded because our state keeps kicking the can down the road, and it will get worse if we don’t wake up. The longer it takes to pass my Save Our State plan and fix the budget crisis, the deeper we’ll be in the ditch and it will require furloughs.”
A press release from the governor’s office on Thursday said the expected deficit in the current budget year ending June 30 will be more than $123 million and will be around $500 million in the next year’s budget. Justice has proposed to the Legislature tax increases and some spending cuts in what he is calling his Save Our State Budget.
The “furlough legislation would be another tool for Gov. Justice to prevent West Virginia from spiraling into a financial black hole,” the release said. Moody’s Investors Services on Tuesday downgraded the state’s bond rating, which Justice announced in a press conference, the third rating service to do so.
Both Houses of the Legislature are controlled by the Republicans who are generally opposed to any tax increases.
Jared Hunt, communications director for the House of Delegates, said House Speaker Tim Armstead isn’t commenting on Justice’s press release. Neither is Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said Jacque Bland, Senate director of communications.
“The only statement I’ve been saying to people: ‘We’re going to pass a budget,’”Hunt said.
In May 2016, former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked for the authority to furlough state employees by executive order and pay bonds if a budget was not passed by the Legislature by June 30. The state doesn’t have a procedure to spend without a balanced budget, causing the government to shut down, the former governor said.
At that time the Legislature was looking for ways to fill a hole in the budget of $271 million. No action on the furlough legislation was taken other than referral to a committee.
The governor probably already has authority to furlough by executive order, said Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood.
“I could be wrong,” he said.
Delegate Frank Deem, R-Wood, earlier this week prepared a bill for introduction that will require at-will employees of the state or its political subdivisions who are dismissed because of a change in administration be given no less than two days notice and no less than two days to vacate their office.
Several long-time employees recently were terminated and not given enough time to get their things out of their desks, he said. One employee couldn’t get a telephone, Deem said.
“I just think that’s wrong,” he said.
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