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Opinion: Justice fiasco at special session

From The Journal of Martinsburg:

To borrow from one of Gov. Jim Justice’s favorite types of analogy, when West Virginia legislators returned to Charleston at his call Thursday, they were handed a silver platter full of … nothing.

Last week, Justice issued his call for a special session of the Legislature, to begin Thursday. The idea was to deal with budget and tax proposals the governor said he had hammered out with state Senate leadership.

Lawmakers gathered at the Capitol at 11 a.m., ready to roll up their sleeves and begin work on bills presented by the governor’s office. But a key measure, on taxes, was not ready for introduction.

It is impossible for the Legislature even to discuss a budget without knowing how much revenue the administration forecasts for the coming year. Doing that requires knowing what tax rates will be in force.

So, with little they could do, legislators adjourned their session until Thursday afternoon. Some were fuming over the governor’s failure to have tax details finalized before they opened their session.

It turns out state Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, was right. “I think the governor calling for a special session now was premature,” he told our reporter for a story published Sunday.

An angry House Speaker Tim Armstead, after having to tell delegates Thursday morning there was nothing for them to do, groused that “we’re here in Charleston wasting $35,000 a day and don’t even have the key bill we need to consider.” Armstead, R-Kanawha, referred to the cost of a special legislative session.

Thursday’s fiasco did not bode well for success in the special session. Justice, fond of criticizing legislators for delays, will have no one but himself to blame if his own failure to be prepared affects other aspects of the budget process adversely.

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