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Justice calls lawmakers back for May 4 budget session


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday evening he will call the West Virginia Legislature into special session on May 4 to approve the state’s 2017-18 budget plan.

“I think we’re on a pathway to pass a budget that’s going to be really special,” Justice said during a news conference at the Capitol.

Gov. Jim Justice reflects on his first 100 days in office during a news conference Wednesday in the Governor’s Reception Room of the West Virginia Capitol, in Charleston. After listing off what he has achieved so far, the governor announced that a special legislative session will start May 4 to continue work on the 2017-18 state budget.
(Photo by Sam Owens)

“If we can get everyone to buy in, it can be a real bipartisan effort of which we can all be proud,” he said.

Justice did not give specifics, or answer reporters’ questions, but he said the tentative budget plan will include “modest additional cuts,” a 1 percent increase in the consumer sales tax and a “modest business-type tax.”

He said it has not been determined if that will be his proposed Commercial Activities Tax, a 0.045 percent gross receipts tax, or a small increase in the corporate net tax.

“I just want businesses to participate. I don’t really care how,” Justice said. “I just think we’ve all got to pull the rope together.”

He said the budget plan will give the state the ability to lower income tax rates by as much as 20 percent — following through on Senate proposals to cut income taxes, presumably as a way to grow the economy.

Justice said the proposal also calls for eliminating income taxes on pensions for military veterans.

“At the end of the day, there will be a few things we go up on, and a few things we will go down on,” he said of the budget plan.

Justice said the pending budget compromise avoids cuts to higher education, the Department of Health and Human Resources, public education, the State Police and other agencies.

The budget bill that Justice vetoed on April 13 had more than $160 million in spending cuts, with the DHHR and higher education bearing the brunt of the cuts.

Justice said he also will ask the Legislature to approve a 4.5-cent increase in the gas tax, an increase in various DMV fees and legislation to continue tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, and any future toll roads, to help fund a $2.4 billion road and infrastructure construction plan, a program he has said would create 48,000 construction jobs.

“I think all that will be back in play, and we’ll get our road jobs,” Justice said.

In the regular session, the Senate passed those funding proposals, but the bills died in the House of Delegates.

Justice said he hopes there will be strong bipartisan support for the budget compromise, saying to legislators, “If you vote ‘no’ on this, what are you voting ‘yes’ for?”

Voting against the budget agreement would amount to voting against higher education, the State Police, tourism marketing, veterans, programs for the weak and disabled, public school teachers and road jobs, according to Justice.

“To me, a vote against this would be a vote for all the bad things I just said,” Justice said, adding, “The vote needs to be 34-0 and 100-0, and then signed by me.”

Afterward, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, called the potential budget compromise a “win, win, win scenario.”

“I think we’ve come to a good compromise, and I think it’s the right path for West Virginia to move forward,” Carmichael told reporters Wednesday evening. “In the aggregate, it’s a substantial tax cut for West Virginia citizens.”

On the last night of the regular session, Carmichael was negotiating a budget deal with Justice, but the 11th-hour plan fell apart, in part because leadership in the House of Delegates had not been directly involved in the talks.

House spokesman Jared Hunt sent out a statement from House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, late Wednesday, that reiterated Armstead’s ire with Justice’s proposal and saying it won’t make it through the House.

“I’m saddened that the Governor continues to refuse to acknowledge that his current plan still does not have the support of the majority of the House of Delegates,” Armstead said in the statement.

He said the Governor blocked the House from budget negotiations, and the proposed budget could lead to a drawn out special session and potential government shutdown.

“Until he [Justice] begins to accept reality, we will get nowhere in this budget debate, resulting in a prolonged session that could have been avoided had the Governor been willing to work with the House,” he said.

Staff writers Ryan Quinn and Jake Zuckerman contributed to this report.

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