Time is running out.
We’ve heard that a lot lately at the Capitol, but this time it’s not just a generic statement creating a sense of urgency to try to get a state budget for next fiscal year.
Time really is running out. Governor Justice’s often referenced countdown clock will be down to two days and 12 hours at noon today, and it’s ticking rapidly toward the midnight Saturday end of the regular session.
The Governor fulfilled his constitutional obligation Wednesday by “extending the session for such further period as may, in his judgement, be necessary for the passage of the (budget) bill.”
Justice’s extension is for just one day.
“In one day we ought to be able to get everything done,” Justice said at a Wednesday afternoon press event. “Why should the people pay more money for us to be here when we’ve been here for 60 days?”
But it’s difficult to imagine that there will be any agreement by the end of the day Sunday. First, the House and Senate have to reconcile their budgets, and that’s not going to be easy. The Senate plan relies more on cuts, while the House plan focuses on broadening the tax base to bring in additional revenue.
Even if a conference committee comes to agreement on something that can pass both chambers, it’s unlikely the Governor will agree with it. Justice’s plan spends about $150 million more than the House budget and nearly $300 more than the Senate budget proposal.
If Justice vetoes the budget, then a special session will be required to come to agreement before the July 1 start of the new fiscal year. But an extra session would be controversial because it would be the second year in a row lawmakers would have to return to Charleston to get a budget.
Meanwhile, Democrats are showing more support for Justice’s tax increases to balance the budget. All but a couple of the 36 House Democrats stood behind the Governor Wednesday for a public endorsement of his spending plan, which includes tax increases on consumers and businesses.
At the event Justice had yet another visual aid. This time is was two plates, each with a hamburger bun on the plate. One bun was empty and the second had a little mayonnaise spread on it.
Justice said those two dishes represent the Republican budget plans—one is a nothing burger and the other is a mayonnaise sandwich.
Republican leaders have long since grown weary of the Governor’s demonstrations, and they believe some of us in the press continue to fall for the antics while they are actually working on the budget and hundreds of other bills.
There’s merit to that complaint, and the Republican-led chambers have, in fact, produced budgets, while the Governor’s spending plan changes frequently.
So where is all this headed? I cannot tell you because no one really knows, at least not yet. What we do know is that now time really is running out.