Governor Jim Justice was at it again Thursday. First he went after Republicans during a legislative breakfast where he said Democrats and willing Republicans have to run over the rest of the GOP. One Republican returned from the event saying, “it did not go over well” with his party.
Later in the day the Governor, with his budget countdown clock next to him, launched into the Republicans again. “There are people (Republicans) that are absolutely part of the problem and not part of the solution,” Justice said. “So far, I’m the only one who has come up with ideas.”
Justice has criticized the Republicans so much that they have grown weary of even responding to the personal attacks, but they bristle at the suggestion that they are not working on the budget.
House and Senate Republicans say they are finalizing the framework of a spending plan, but it is evident differences remain. If the House and Senate were completely aligned they would have released their plan yesterday or today.
Now it looks more like Monday, and Justice isn’t going to like what he sees. Senate President Mitch Carmichael said on Talkline Thursday that their plan will spend only as much as the state is expected to collect in taxes—about $4.05 billion. That’s almost one-half billion less than Justice wants to spend.
Justice believes reducing government spending any farther will put the state in an economic death spiral. “We don’t need to have scalps,” Justice said Thursday of the Republican focus on budget cuts. “If we take anything else away it’s going to drive more people out of West Virginia.”
There was a point Thursday afternoon during Justice’s press conference when the culture of his private sector background was evident. “If these people (the Republicans) were working for me, they’d be in real trouble,” he said. “They wouldn’t BE working for me.”
It’s appropriate and helpful to bring private business experience to government. People who have had to meet deadlines, make tough budget decisions, hire and fire people, deal with government regulations, angry customers and a range of competitors, develop skills that can make government more efficient and effective.
As Justice often said on the campaign trail, quoting his father, “I’ve done done it.”
But there are differences between government and the private sector, most importantly the three co-equal branches of government that are designed to serve as a system of checks and balances. Justice may wish he could fire House and Senate Republican leaders, but he can’t.
Like it or not, he needs them, especially if he hopes to salvage any part of his Save our State Fund or his road and jobs program.
A couple weeks ago I did not think a government shutdown was likely, but I’m not as confident now. Yes, Justice has proposed an alternative budget that includes lower tax hikes, but he continues to say he has no appetite for deep cuts. The Republican view is just the opposite—more cuts, no (or very modest) tax increases.
We still have a long way to go (another 29 days in the regular session), and the new budget year does not begin until July 1st. Compromise will be necessary to avoid a shutdown, and right now the common ground is occupying only a small space at the Capitol.