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Gov. Justice blames legislators for failures of special session, says road bond key to state’s future

By CHARLES YOUNG

The Exponent Telegram

CLARKSBURG, W.Va.  — West Virginia’s governor is frustrated with the results of the Legislature’s special session, but he remains optimistic about the state’s prospects going forward.

In a conversation with The Exponent Telegram via video conferencing Thursday, Gov. Jim Justice expressed his disappointment with the Legislature for not making more progress during the special session, but he said his hopes for the state’s economic future remain intact thanks to his road-building initiative.

Although it resulted in some reforms, Justice said the 21-day special session was a failure.

“The truth of matter is, beyond the education component and the roads, you tell me what we accomplished in the legislative session. We accomplished zero,” he said. “I don’t care how you cut it. We did not give ourselves a half-way hope. We didn’t give ourselves anything.”

The budget passed by the Legislature during the special session, which Justice refused to sign, will needlessly cause hardship for many West Virginians, the governor said.

“At the end of the day, if one family got hurt in this state that was unnecessarily hurt, that’s not good enough for me,” he said. “And the reality is, hundreds of thousands of families have been hurt, and we didn’t have to do it.”

Among those who will be adversely impacted are miners, teachers, students, veterans and low-income families, Justice said.

Along with gutting the state’s tourism budget, the new spending plan makes significant cuts to funding for higher education institutions. Justice said while those education cuts may be saving the state money in the short-term, they will be paid for in the long-term by students.

“WVU, Marshall and West Virginia State are having to raise tuitions,” he said. “Well, for crying out loud, that’s nothing more than a tax for kids that are at the schools.”

If lawmakers had followed his advice, the state budget could have been balanced without all the controversy and infighting, Justice said.

“We did not have to do all this. We didn’t have to do any of it,” he said. “I had it worked out, and the numbers balanced. As sure as Jim Justice knows his name, I told these people. I told them and I told them and I told them: If they didn’t do this plan, there was going to be real carnage happening. You’re seeing it happen right now.”

West Virginians who are upset about the state budget should make their voices heard with their votes, Justice said.

“At the end of the day, the people of this great state need to take names and hold people accountable,” he said. “If their lives are negatively impacted when they didn’t have to be, they need to hold people accountable, and that includes me.”

Despite those worries, Justice said the road-building initiative that he signed into law Tuesday will serve as a lifeline for the state.

The initiative depends on state voters approving — on Oct. 7 — a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to issue $1.6 billion in bonds to pay for road construction projects.

To help pay off the bonds, the Legislature OK’d higher DMV fees, fuel taxes and sales taxes on new vehicles, as well an expansion of the state Parkways Authority’s ability to set tolls. Those changes go into effect July 1.

“The roads thing is going to save our bacon,” Justice said. “There’s no question whatsoever — it’s going to save our bacon.”

Although he said he has many regrets about the budget and how the special session worked out, Justice said he is confident that voters will see the road bond measure as the state’s best option.

“At the end of the day, we’re going to be OK,” he said. “We’re going to be OK because of one thing — that is that the roads impact is going to be off the chart; what it’s going to bring us as far as revenues and opportunity and on and on.”

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