Addressing Fairmont State University students, Gov. Jim Justice said West Virginia is suffering a “China syndrome.” He continued: “You ever heard of that before? Where you have a total meltdown and you can’t stop it?” He referred to a 1979 movie in which a nuclear plant meltdown threatened, rhetorically, to bore through the Earth to China.
The new governor said the financial shortfall is “way worse than what I could have ever dreamed it could be. We are in a mess beyond belief, that you can’t possibly even have an idea how bad ‘bad’ is.”
The state’s crisis happened because past Legislatures slashed business taxes greatly to “create jobs” — but it didn’t work, and employment declined. Then the coal industry’s decline decimated severance taxes. The state faces $500 million deficit in the fiscal year that starts July 1, and $700 million in the year thereafter.
Most Republican legislators, and some conservative Democrats, signed pledges never to raise taxes — which hinders their ability to keep the state government afloat.
Unless new revenue is found, Justice told FSU, state funding must cease for “at least six colleges and community colleges,” plus agencies such as the Department of Veterans Assistance. About 3,000 state jobs would be wiped out, he said.
In a Senate committee, Republicans voted to proceed toward ending the state income tax and replacing it with a consumption tax, without learning how much it would cost the government. Later, Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow testified that the change would bring a $610 million loss and cause economic chaos.
Republicans now control West Virginia’s Legislature. Will they obey their constitutional duty to fund the state government?
On Monday afternoon, GOP leaders in the Legislature unveiled their budget counter-proposal. It slashes teachers and teacher pensions, cuts highway spending and reduces various other government programs — yet still leaves a $150 million gap in next year’s budget.
Legislators weren’t elected to sabotage state government and make it a helpless basket case. They were elected to make West Virginia successful.
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