By RUSTY MARKS
The State Journal
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice says he is willing to shut down state government if that’s what it takes to reach a budget deal with Republican leadership in the state Senate and House of Delegates.
“You’ve got a bunch of Republicans who are good people, and behind closed doors they’ll say they’re with me,” Justice, a Democrat, said. But he said there was a faction of Republican leadership who believe they’re “on a mission from God” to cut state government at all costs.
“With every cut, there’s a name,” Justice said. “There’s a family.”
State Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, released an outline of a budget plan on March 13 that would limit state spending to $4.055 billion. To get there, the Republican proposal contemplates budget sweeps, raising wholesale beer and liquor taxes, eliminating parts of Justice’s proposed budget and eliminating greyhound and casino subsidies.
That would still leave about $150 million in necessary cuts, which Armstead and Carmichael said would likely have to come from the Department of Health and Human Resources, K-12 education and the higher education system.
Justice and members of his administration believe those kinds of cuts would be devastating to state services and to the people of West Virginia.
“This is not raise your taxes versus live within your means,” Justice told a crowd of several hundred people at an oil and gas industry rally at the Capitol Tuesday, March 21. “That’s what you’ve been told.
“That’s garbage,” Justice said. “This is recovery versus sure-fire death.”
DHHR Secretary Bill Crouch and Justice’s staff came up with a list of possible cuts to show what losing $50 million from DHHR’s Medicaid budget would look like. Crouch said the cuts could be as much as $189 million with the loss of federal matching funds.
Possible services that would have to be eliminated under such a proposal could include elimination of personal care services for adults, emergency transportation for the elderly and disabled, hospice care for the terminally ill and cutting rates paid to nursing homes.
Another scenario would eliminate services for seniors, the blind and disabled who are not eligible for Social Security and for breast and cervical cancer patients, and doing away with adult dental, eye, occupational therapy, podiatry and physical therapy services.
Justice said he would light the light in the dome of the state Capitol building at 5 p.m. Tuesday and leave it burning to highlight the medical emergency DHHR cuts would create. The dome light he referenced is the State of Emergency lantern, and it has only been lit for a declared disaster or state of emergency.
Justice said the administration will come up with similar scenarios to show what $50 million in cuts to higher education and $50 million cuts to K-12 education might look like.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, was not pleased with Justice’s actions.
“Since Nov. 8, this governor has consistently promised the sky and delivered the rain,” Carmichael said. “He pledged to our citizens that he would balance a budget without raising taxes. He did not. He pledged to our citizens that he would step up and handle his own outstanding tax burden. He has not. He pledged to the Legislature that he would deliver a budget that would make the kinds of tough cuts that would be needed to get this state back on a course to prosperity. He has not. He said he had found the money necessary to prevent a ‘raid’ on the Rainy Day fund. He has not.
Today, while the Legislature continued its work, the governor called us cowards, described his meetings with legislative leadership as producing ‘nothing,’ threatened to shut down the government outright if he does not get his way, and, perhaps in the most out-of-touch move to date, declared his intent to turn on the State of Emergency lantern in the top of the Capitol dome. In further drawing his line in the sand, he said he would be downstairs every morning in his ‘war room,’ and the Legislature could come to him to work,” Carmichael said.
“There is no question about it: This governor has declared war on the taxpayers of the state of West Virginia by demanding that they absorb the costs of his desire to grow government,” he said. “Gov. Justice has repeatedly asked both the public and the Legislature to ‘trust him,’ and to ‘judge him by his deeds.’
“The deeds this governor today show a person who is dangerously unprepared to lead this state, and someone who has a deep disrespect for constitutional government and the hardworking, taxpaying citizens who elected him. This Legislature will not stand by and allow the taxpayers to be used as collateral, or to be disrespected any longer.”
House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, issued a statement, saying his community was among the hardest hit during last summer’s deadly flooding, and the State of Emergency lantern at the Capitol “had meaning to those of us affected by the flood, it showed the state stood with us in our time of tragedy.”
“Today, with the same immature and cavalier attitude he has displayed almost every day since becoming governor, Jim Justice has belittled and made a joke of a symbol that should not be politicized,” Armstead said. “The governor owes those affected by tragedies an apology. He owes the people of West Virginia an apology.”
Armstead said Justice has changed his budget proposals and only provided his details today — 42 days into the 60-day regular session and seven days after the deadline to introduce bills.
“With a key deadline to get bills passed out of the House looming next Wednesday, the people of our state don’t have time for political stunts,” Armstead said. “If the governor wants to work with us to solve this problem in a responsible and productive manner, we remain willing to work with him. But the clock is ticking and we don’t have time to play games.
“This Legislature is working night and day to get a budget passed in record time, and we are committed to delivering — and believe we will have — a balanced budget sent to the governor’s desk before the final day of our session.”
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