The Inter-Mountain editorial
Gov. Jim Justice seems to believe the art of politics is not compromise, but bullying.
The billionaire businessman clearly is accustomed to getting his way. So, when West Virginia legislators balked at his suggestion for a massive tax increase to fund an expansion of state government, the governor’s reaction was to label them “knuckleheads.”
His most recent attempt to intimidate conservative lawmakers involved a suggestion he might have to lay off state workers unless lawmakers go along. To that, he added a suggestion that legislators’ pay for any special session on the budget ought to be capped at five days.
To be clear, here is what Justice wants: Far from reducing the cost of government, he wants to increase it by about $318 million next year. He insists about $450 million in tax increases are imperative.
But the governor is not trying very hard to limit spending. He presented just two budget options to the Legislature. One includes the tax increases. The other is a scorched-earth threat that without higher taxes, the sky will fall in the form of college and state park closures, along with other draconian — and thoughtless — cuts.
As we have reported, Justice’s recommended budget also eliminated about $4 million in funding for fairs, festivals and other special events. He added to legislators that if they go along with his tax increases, that money can be put back in the budget.
A decision by Moody’s Investor Services to downgrade the state’s bond rating last week gave the governor another opening. He laid the blame squarely on legislators for objecting to — you guessed it — his tax plan.
In doing so, Justice defended his own agenda by citing a financial analyst’s praise that he is “not afraid to get his hands dirty” on fiscal issues.
Trouble is, his hands are spotless, figuratively speaking. For evidence of that, look at his proposal to balance this year’s budget by taking $123 million from the emergency “Rainy Day” fund.
Justice knows that every dime taken from that reserve account makes it more likely the state’s bond rating will be downgraded. Yet his knee-jerk reaction was to balance the books by raiding it — not by finding even a few more economies in state government. His predecessor, former Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, did get his hands dirty by ordering mid-year spending cuts.
For Justice, it is all or nothing. Either lawmakers approve his tax plan or dire consequences will follow for them as well as the state as a whole, he threatens. And he wants Mountain State residents to support him.
They have 450 million reasons not to bow to the pressure.
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