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Legislative leaders relieved by governor’s decision to allow budget into law


The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Many legislators said they are relieved by the governor’s decision to let the 2018 budget become law without his signature, even if they didn’t necessarily like everything in the budget. 

Calling the bill a “travesty,” Justice announced his decision in a Wednesday press conference.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, and Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, both said they were glad about the governor’s decision. However, they didn’t necessarily like the way the governor characterized the budget.

Sen. Mitch Carmichael, left, and Del. Tim Armstead.
(Photo by WV Legislative Photography)
 “I’m glad we have a budget, but his criticism is unfair,” Armstead said. “The House was united in passing a budget. We had bipartisan support for that budget. … For him to say the House couldn’t agree on anything, we just could couldn’t agree on what he wanted.”

Justice said Wednesday he is concerned that the budget’s cuts are too severe and that using surplus money to backfill Medicaid and higher education will present problems in the future.

But Carmichael disagreed, saying he doesn’t believe the budget will cause “carnage” or devastation in the out years, calling it an “inappropriate characterization.”

“One, this budget spends about 98.5 percent of what we spent in the state of West Virginia last year,” Carmichael said. “So a 1.5 percent reduction in total spending is not going to create carnage and devastation. However, (Justice) has a bigger, bolder vision for our state that we share in many respects. So, while it does not create carnage and devastation, it doesn’t jump-start the economy in the manner we would have liked to have seen.”

House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said he wasn’t surprised by the governor’s decision, saying he felt House and Senate leadership put Justice in a difficult position between vetoing the bill and having a government shutdown.

“I have mixed feelings because I and most of the Democrats in the House and Senate voted against the budget because it cut areas that shouldn’t be cut. But since Democrats are practically a super minority in both the House and Senate, there wasn’t much that could be done.”

Miley said his biggest concerns are cuts to higher education, which have gone on for the last five to six years. Cuts. he said, could lead universities to eliminate programs or raise tuition.

“In either case, it’s not a good thing for the students in West Virginia,” Miley said. “I believe the only way to build a thriving middle class is to make both two- and four-year colleges affordable to every high school student and allow them the opportunity to not just get a college education, but a degree as well. This budget that the Republican majority has passed and the governor has allowed to become law takes away those opportunities.”

Armstead and Miley also addressed Justice’s criticism of lawmakers, calling House leadership “questionable” on both sides. Armstead said he felt delegates were unified in their rejection of the governor’s plans.

“The one time we showed the most unity was when we said no to the plan he proposed,” Armstead said. “This House does not support this plan. We are willing to work for longterm tax reform. … We didn’t have the answers we needed to have and we weren’t going to put ourselves and the people of the state out there not knowing what impact this plan would have. There were too many unanswered questions and the plan changed every day.”

In his press conference, Justice said he felt disappointed in actions of Democrats, saying they are like “family.” Miley said he didn’t think Justice’s characterizations are fair.

“It is the most ridiculous assertion I’ve heard in quite some time,” Miley said. “I know it was hot in Charleston today and clearly it must have been hot in the room in which he was speaking for him to be so confused about where blame should be placed. Clearly, the Democrats make up only 36 percent of the members in the House of Delegates. The other 64 percent is made up of Republicans. The Republicans can pass or block anything they want. Somehow saying that the near super minority of Democrats impeded anything tells me that there is a lack of understanding numbers.”

Local delegates also responded Wednesday to the governor’s decision.

 Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, is happy the state is avoiding a shutdown. However, he also is concerned about the state’s future.
Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh

“I’m pleased that with just 10 days to go, we are avoiding a shutdown,” he said. “It would be crippling to our economy and hurt people. I did not vote for the budget and I wouldn’t have signed it if I was in his position either.”

He said in his view, the Legislature may have caused more problems in the future.

“Time will tell once these cuts go into effect,” Bates said. “We collectively punted our programs again. We will be back in six months to have the same fights all over again. We can’t keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.”

Delegate Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, said he felt the governor was justified in his decision.

“Gov. Justice did all he could do,” Baldwin said. “He couldn’t sign a bad budget. He couldn’t veto at this point because it would’ve hurt state employees. The Legislature put him between a rock and a hard place. Why we didn’t debate or vote on the compromise he brokered still upsets me. We need more statesmen and women who are willing to compromise for the good of the state. Otherwise, we’ll be back here again next year and the year after.”

Delegate John O’Neal, R-Raleigh, said he is relieved the budget will become law.

“I am relieved that our responsible budget will become law, allowing essential services for all West Virginians to continue uninterrupted and bringing certainty to state employees and benefit recipients,” O’Neal said. “This fiscally responsible budget adequately funds essential state services, while requiring state government to live within its means. This budget spends every dollar of the governor’s revenue estimate, while funding 97 percent of the spending level requested from the administration, without raising the tax burden on the West Virginia citizens or businesses.”

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