CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Incoming state Senate President Mitch Carmichael says he was surprised Governor-elect Jim Justice reacted the way he did when Carmichael put out a news release Thursday backing Justice’s campaign statements about no tax increases.

“To be honest, I was a little bit taken aback by the reaction,” Carmichael said on MetroNews “Talkline” Friday. “I was really trying to send a message to the state of West Virginia that from a Senate perspective we’re on board with you Governor-elect Justice. We embrace this philosophy and look forward to working with  you to implement it.”

Carmichael said his news release was not an attempt to paint Justice into a corner with a projected $400 million budget deficit staring state leaders in the face.

But Justice saw it differently. While not mentioning Carmichael by name he said, “In November, the people of West Virginia spoke and they made it clear they are tired of all the political posturing. It’s going to take sincere efforts to solve the budget crisis. Political games won’t cut it anymore; We’ve got to put that to bed because we owe it to the people to get our budget under control.”

Justice has said he believes the budget can be balanced without raising taxes. But he also said all of state funding must be assessed and that he is reluctant to implement more across-the-board cuts. He has focused on potential strategies for statewide economic growth that he says will give the budget breathing room.

Justice has every right to propose tax increases if he wants, Carmichael said Friday.

“If he determines that there are tax increases that he wants to propose then he can come to the legislature or address the people of West Virginia and say, ‘Look I made a mistake. I was wrong,'” Carmichael said.

Carmichael said he’s been very impressed with Justice during their meetings and conversations and he’s looking forward to working with him.

Americans for Prosperity-West Virginia, a lower-taxes lobbying group affiliated with the Koch brothers, issued a statement in support of a bipartisan effort to balance the budget without raising taxes.

“It is extremely heartening to West Virginia taxpayers to see an early bipartisan commitment to balance the budget without increasing the tax burden on the struggling families and businesses within our state,” stated Jason Huffman, director of the state organization.

The West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, which has argued that tax hikes are needed to balance West Virginia’s budget, responded to the exchanges between Carmichael and Justice with statements pointing toward their own poll showing 70 percent of West Virginians would be willing to pay more in taxes to maintain funding for public schools, police protection and roads.

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