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Justice expresses frustration over lack of budget

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Standing in front of his office’s budget countdown clock, Gov. Jim Justice expressed frustration that he hasn’t seen a plan for the budget introduced yet.

Thursday marked the halfway point of the session. Justice spoke briefly to reporters Thursday in front of the budget clock, which counts down to April 8, the end of the regular session.

“Today, we were promised a budget and there is no budget. Last year we spent an unbelievable time on raw milk and now, we’re spending time on deer antlers,” Justice said referring to House Bill 2707, which would clarify that naturally shed deer antlers may be collected and sold.

“Really? This is the sole and only piece of legislation that has to be passed,” Justice said as he wrote “no budget” on the white board. “This is the most important thing that has got to be done. I have no clue why in the world it’s not being done.”

Justice also expressed frustration over what he called a “faction” in the Legislature that he said is “going nowhere.”

He later clarified that the faction he was talking about wasn’t Republican leadership, but said there are some people who have said they will “never going to do this or that.”

“I told you it doesn’t matter if you’re Republican, Democrat or Independent but I’ll tell you just this. You better think of the courage, boldness and creativity and hope that the Democrats up there are trying to give us. Some in the Republican party are trying the same thing. Then, you have a faction that is actually going nowhere.”

Justice took issue with more cuts, comparing the state to a dying patient, saying more cuts would “slow the heart rate to where it can’t recover.”

“If you want Alaska and I want the desert, then let’s land in Iowa,” Justice said. “Iowa is the wrong place to land and we don’t need to be there.”

“If we take anything else away, it will drive more people out of West Virginia,” he later said. “More people will leave than come. As more leave, we will look over our back and that hole is going to be there. Then what are you going to do?”

Justice said in his view, he’s the only one coming up with ideas, mentioning his two budget proposals. His newest budget proposal includes a 1 cent per ounce tax on sugary drinks, which he estimates will generate $85 million and a 50 cent per pack tax on cigarettes, which he estimates will raise $47.8 million.

Justice said it was his idea for smoothing annual required contributions for teachers’ retirement and sweeping one-time funds from various state agencies. However, legislative leadership previously scoffed at the notion the governor found the monies they have been eyeing for a while.

Under his proposal, $60 million would come from special revenue accounts and $60 million from re-appropriated funds to avoid tapping the Rainy Day fund.

“So far, I’ve been the only one to come up with ideas that take us somewhere,” he said, later adding. “Listen, we need a real plan. … We need to charge out of this hole into a land of hope. I’m waiting. We have no budget.”

When asked if a budget has ever been passed this early in the session, Justice said maybe not but mentioned how much the last special session cost.

“I can tell you in recent years the special session cost our good people $600,000,” Justice said, later adding, “If these people (referring to legislators) were working for me, they would be in real trouble. They wouldn’t be working now.”

Justice said this year, there will not be a break between the regular session and a special session.

“Where they broke last year for six weeks or so, I have the right to call them back in three days. We won’t be going home. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said.

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