Governor refers to self as ‘grizzly bear,’ Ferns as ‘poodle’
By IAN HICKS
The Wheeling News-Register
WHEELING, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s feud with legislative leaders over how to solve the state’s budget crisis took a bizarre turn Friday with Justice comparing himself to a “grizzly bear” and likening Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns to a “poodle.”
Justice employed the metaphor during a radio interview Friday in responding to tweets by Ferns, R-Ohio, criticizing the governor’s approach to balancing the budget. An estimated $500 million gap exists between projected revenue and spending for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
“Basically, at some point in time, if I’m the poodle, I’m concerned that the grizzly bear at some point in time is just going to get tired of all the tweeting and the little crap that’s going on and turn around and eat your ass,” Justice said.
Ferns responded via Twitter: “No time for the Gov’s school yard threats. I’m busy airing out the gross conflicts of interest with his appointees.” It was the latest in a series of tweets from Ferns over the last week or so targeting the governor’s proposed policies — in particular, his budget proposal that includes about $450 million in higher taxes and fees and $27 million in spending cuts.
On Feb. 16, Ferns tweeted, “If you really believe the government grows jobs, and are for bigger government/higher taxes support the Governor’s budget.”
Two days later, Ferns in another social media post referenced comments by Justice in which he called lawmakers who oppose his budget plan “knuckleheads.”
“This was the comment he made about an hour before coming (to) the @WVGOPSenators caucus and asking us to ‘trust him,’” Ferns tweeted.
Another tweet by Ferns on Wednesday accused Justice of “dodging the tough questions for over 18 months.”
Later on Friday, Ferns said he believes his criticism of Justice has been “professional, to the point and factual.”
“I’m actually embarrassed for the governor. To be considered the leader of a state and to resort to name-calling and empty threats is just a sign to me that he lacks any comments of substance,” Ferns said. “It’s an indication to me that maybe he’s not ready to lead this state.”
Ferns downplayed the significance of Friday’s exchange, saying it shouldn’t prevent civil discussion of the issues facing the state in the future.
“What was said (Friday) means nothing to me. It’s not going to affect my ability to work with anyone,” Ferns said. “The state of West Virginia is in maybe the most critical time that it ever has been. … I’d sit down with (Justice) tomorrow. There’s not time. It’s too important to the state of West Virginia not to do everything in our power to solve this crisis.
“My hope is he would feel the same way and put the petty comments aside and work toward a solution for our state, because that’s what we were both elected to do,” Ferns continued.
Justice’s proposed budget — which would add almost $390 million in spending from the general fund over the current year — would increase the state sales tax from 6 percent to 6.5 percent, eliminate sales tax exemptions for professional services and advertising, create a 0.2-percent tax on gross revenue from business earnings and increase wholesale taxes on beer and liquor.
Leaders in the GOP-controlled Senate and House of Delegates have blasted Justice’s proposed budget, saying more spending cuts are needed to balance the budget because West Virginians can’t afford an additional tax burden.
The state got more bad financial news Tuesday when Moody’s Investors Service announced it had downgraded West Virginia’s bond rating from Aa1 to Aa2, citing a “structural imbalance” between revenue and spending.