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Justice meets with GOP leaders, no announcement on budget, special session


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Four days after Gov. Jim Justice vetoed the Legislature’s version of the budget bill, theatrically comparing it to bovine excrement, the Justice administration resumed budget talks with legislative leaders Monday.

Justice spokesman Grant Herring said Justice and chief of staff Nick Casey had a number of meetings Monday with leadership, but he said no announcements on progress were immediately pending.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, had a 2 p.m. meeting with Justice, but was not available for comment immediately afterward.

On the last night of the regular session April 8, Carmichael and Justice were negotiating a compromise proposal incorporating most of Justice’s funding initiatives with a Senate plan to phase out income taxes and lower severance taxes, making up revenue with a broad-based 7 percent consumption tax and partial restoration of the sales tax on groceries.

Despite Justice’s assertions they were on the “cusp of an agreement,” time ran out on the talks, and the Legislature hurriedly passed the bare-bones, no tax increase, $4.102 billion budget bill Justice vetoed Thursday.

In a veto message somewhat more restrained than his press event announcing the action, Justice said the legislative budget bill was a “reckless spending plan that guarantees future budget shortfalls just one year from now and every year thereafter.”

Justice said the legislative proposal, “irresponsibly uses $225 million in one-time money, including $90 million from the Rainy Day Fund, to ‘balance’ the FY 2018 budget.”

“The budget bill includes minimal revenue enhancements and does not address, to any meaningful extent, the structural hole we face,” he said.

Echoing a familiar phrase, Justice said the vetoed budget “only kicks the can further down the road.”

“It does not give our classroom teachers a pay raise, nor does it boost investments in infrastructure or tourism,” Justice wrote. “It does not create the 48,000 jobs; it does not create even one job.”

Justice has proposed selling upward of $2.8 billion in road bonds, to be funded through proposed increases in the gas tax, DMV fees and by retaining tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, saying the plan would create 48,000 construction jobs. Bills to provide those funding measures died in the House of Delegates.

“Quite simply, the [vetoed]budget bill has no tools to jump-start our economy,” Justice added. “It even abandons the most vulnerable population of our state by cutting the Medicaid program without any plan to make it whole again in the future.”

Justice also raised concerns in his veto message that the budget bill would not have gone into effect until July 8, seven days after the start of the new budget year, because both houses lacked the needed two-thirds votes to make it effective from passage.

“Notwithstanding assurances to the contrary, this will cause a state government shutdown,” Justice wrote. “Perhaps that was leadership in the Legislature’s goal, but it is a non-starter for me. We must all work together, not as Republicans and Democrats, but as West Virginians, to enact a bipartisan budget that is in place starting July 1.”

Previously, state auditor J.B. McCuskey said he believes state law would permit the state to make payroll for state employees on July 7 and to make interest payments on bond issues. He also said the state could delay payments to vendors in the event there was a brief gap between the end of the 2016-2017 and start of the 2017-2018 budget years.

“If it were any longer than eight days, it would be a problem,” he said at the time.

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