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Capitol emergency light rankles GOP

Staff reports

The Weirton Daily Times

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Actions taken by West Virginia Governor Jim Justice on Tuesday in regard to lighting the emergency lantern on the top of the Capitol dome for the duration of the budget crisis has rubbed the 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 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 citizens who count on programs funded through the Department of Health and Human Resources.

At a press conference, Justice highlighted how much pain would be inflicted to West Virginians if the Republicans follow through on their pledge to cut at least $50 million from the Medicaid program under DHHR. GOP lawmakers haven’t offered specific cuts because they don’t want to level with West Virginians on exactly who will be on the chopping block, Justice said.

“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 cuts of $150 million a fantasy.

The real cuts are closer to $267 million, according to published reports, he said, adding a $50 million cut to Medicaid is at least a $185 million cut 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.

The Republican leadership in the Legislature responded to Justice. The dome light is used under a state-of-emergency, they said.

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, whose house was among hundreds in West Virginia flooded last summer, said the governor should apologize.

“Let me say this, I have bitten my tongue and I’ve hesitated to respond to any of the foolishness that’s come from the governor in terms of name-calling and childishness, but I think he crossed the line,”Armstead said. “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.

Armstead said Justice needs to reconsider.

“I think he needs to apologize to the people of West Virginia,” he said. “When I see this light at the top of the Capitol dome, I’m not going to see any symbol of any health emergency.

“I’m going to see a symbol of a governor who is so out of touch with the people of West Virginia and is struggling to do this sacred job that the people of West Virginia have entrusted him.”

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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