Many fires begin with a spark, a small ignition that can quickly extinguish or, given the proper conditions, develop into an inferno.

Last week we had a spark involving incoming Senate President Mitch Carmichael (R-Jackson) and Governor-elect Jim Justice.  Here’s what happened:

Carmichael sent out a news release complimenting Justice for the business acumen that he brings to the job and for his “pledge to confront the fiscal issues of West Virginia without raising taxes.”

About two hours later, the Justice transition team sent out a news release in response, though not identifying Carmichael by name. “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,” Justice said in the release.

The Justice team apparently believes that Carmichael was trying to paint the new governor into a corner on the difficult budget issue.

As MetroNews reporter Brad McElhinny reported last Thursday, Justice said many times during the campaign that West Virginians are taxed too much already.  However, Justice has created a little wiggle room since the election, telling one reporter on the tax question, “You never say never, no matter what the situation might be, but I believe with all my soul, yes, I can do it (without new taxes).”

Carmichael, during an appearance on Talking following the dueling news releases, said he was surprised by the Justice response. “To be honest, I was a little bit taken aback by the reaction,” he said. “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.”

West Virginia faces an estimated $400 million shortfall for the next budget year. That’s a huge number considering the General Revenue portion of the budget is just over $4 billion. The biggest challenge for the new governor and the legislature is to find a way to fill the hole with more revenue through economic growth (as Justice has promised), cuts, tax increases or a combination thereof.

Remember that last year the legislature and Governor Tomblin had to endure an embarrassing 17 day special session to get a budget.  Nobody wants a repeat of that, so tough decisions will have to be made.

Frankly, the press releases (and our coverage) may be much ado about nothing. After all, we have new players in power positions who may misinterpret intentions. They could easily hug it out at their next meeting.

However, this budget stuff is volatile, meaning any spark can be dangerous.

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