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West Virginia Legislature’s budget divide lights up Charleston

Staff reports

The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice’s Tuesday order to light the emergency lantern on the top of the Capitol dome for the duration of the budget crisis has rubbed Republican leadership the wrong way.

The light has traditionally been used in times of emergencies, such as the floods that impacted the state last year.

Justice Tuesday ordered the emergency lantern on the top of the Capitol dome be turned on until the budget crisis is resolved. The governor said it would be a full-scale emergency for the state’s most vulnerable residents who count on programs funded through the Department of Health and Human Resources.

At a press conference, Justice focused on Republicans’ plan to cut at least $50 million from the Medicaid program under DHHR.

“The Republicans don’t want to share the concrete specifics of their budget cuts because they know how much they’ll hurt people,” Justice said. “The other side says they want to cut at least $50 million from Medicaid so they should man up and tell the people what they are doing. Playing these kind of political shell games is what created this budget crisis, and it’s not right.”

Justice called the total projected GOP budget cuts of $150 million a “fantasy,”saying the real cuts are closer to $267 million when factoring in the federal match rate.

Justice said he is offering the executive conference room in his office 9 a.m. every day to assemble his team and members of the Legislature to meet and lock the doors until the budget crisis is resolved.

Senate Majority Leader Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio, said lawmakers already are hard at work on the budget.

“We start everyday at 7:30 a.m. (Justice’s) people are welcome to join us when they get here,” Ferns tweeted Tuesday afternoon.

Other Republican leaders in the Legislature criticized Justice’s decision to light the emergency lantern.

House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, whose house was among hundreds in West Virginia flooded last summer, said the governor “crossed the line” and should apologize.

“Last year my district got hit with one of the worst disasters in the history of our state. Twenty-three of our fellow West Virginians died. Out of respect for those people that light was turned on at the top of the Capitol dome. For this governor to make a joke out of something that has been used to pay respect to West Virginians is embarrassing,” Armstead said.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, agreed with Armstead’s assessment of the governor’s actions.

“Oh my gosh, this governor has taken the level of rhetoric and discourse to a new low,” he said. “I think, frankly, many of the people of West Virginia are disappointed in his approach to governing.

“To threaten to shut the government down if you don’t get your way is a new low, even for this governor. So I’m disappointed in his approach,” Carmichael said. “But having said that, we will rise above that and we will bring forth a budget to the people of West Virginia that spends no more than what we have. He has decided to tell the people of West Virginia, ‘I’m going to shut this government down unless you give me $350 million in new taxes.’ It’s ridiculous.”

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