By WENDY HOLDREN
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With only five days remaining in the regular Legislative session, Gov. Jim Justice criticized West Virginia lawmakers at a press conference Monday for failing to balance the state’s budget.
“I thought we were really close, but we’re not,” Justice said.
While he commended the efforts made toward education, such as the elimination of the A-F grading system, and exempting veterans’ retirement from state income tax, he said the 800-pound gorilla in the room, the state’s budget, remains unresolved.
“Without casting stones or blaming anybody in the past, we could have fixed this, but we didn’t,” Justice said. “We kicked the can down the road and hoped things were going to get better.”
He continued, “We keep kicking the can and hoping, but that’s no solution.”
Justice said the most painless way to achieve a balanced budget is for wealthier West Virginians to pay a higher income tax, an expenditure he called “symbolic more than anything.”
This tax, along with a business tax called Commercial Activities Tax, would have greatly helped the state, Justice said.
“Instead of going with something that makes the most sense and is easiest of all, we’re plowing brand new ground.”
The governor criticized lawmakers for trying, with five days left in the session, to broaden the tax base instead of facing the perception of having raised taxes.
“They don’t want to say, ‘We raised taxes.’ They want to say, ‘We removed the exemptions.’”
But Justice fears this move would yield major cuts to higher education and the Department of Health and Human Resources.
He also said a food tax would hurt “the weakest of the weakest.”
“We’ve got to have some level of compassion. We’ve got to share in the problem to get us there.”
He left lawmakers with a warning as the regular session comes to a close — “Batten down the hatches and get your sleeping bags, because this isn’t going to get done.”
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