CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Nick Casey, the governor’s chief of staff, says the administration is already considering whether the state’s bills could continue to be paid if leaders can’t agree on a budget before the new fiscal year begins.
“I’m concerned about it,” Casey said today on “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval. “We asked the Senate to pass a furlough bill. The Senate did pass that. We asked the the House to do the same thing, and the House did not pass it.
“That troubles us because administratively, the governor from an operational perspective has to operate the state, pay the payroll, pay the vendors and do the kind of responsibility that’s statutorially required.”
Casey went on to say, “If we don’t have a budget, it is uncharted territory. And it’s territory where we don’t believe you can pay your bills because there’s no authorization to pay those bills. It’s not a place we want to find ourselves.”
As a practical matter, the state Auditor’s office would handle many of those duties.
The governor asked for legislation allowing his office to furlough state employees on Day 16 of the 60-day session. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin asked for similar legislation last year when the state had similar problems reaching agreement on the budget.
The idea is that furloughs would provide more flexibility for both agencies and employees, rather than layoffs.
Casey said the administration has continued open discussions with leadership in the Senate and with Democrats from both houses but has not had productive discussions with leadership in the House of Delegates.
“The Republican leadership in the House has become the odd person out in this particular conversation,” Casey said.
House Speaker Tim Armstead said this week that the Republican caucus objects to aspects of the current budget discussion that would raise the state sales tax by 1 percent while also establishing a corporate activities tax and lump sum taxes on higher-earning workers.
Armstead, in an appearance on “Talkline” on Thursday, blamed Justice for not being willing to come off some of those tax increases.
“Our members want a budget. A lot of that depends on Jim Justice,” Armstead said. “I think he is holding the padlock to close this government in his hand. If he wants to put it on the door to close the government, it’s up to him. If he wants to avoid that, we’re here to talk with him.
“So far, he wants to talk with people who agree with him. That isn’t going to get him where he needs to go.”
Casey said the administration has reached out with House leadership, including a meeting this past Monday, but the reaction hasn’t been receptive so far.
“I believe folks have reached out and been down the hall to meet with those folks, and it’s just not been meetings they’re interested in given the framework that’s being discussed between the Senate the governor and the various Democratic groups.
“It’d be a great conversation to have. We’ve walked that hall. I believe Senate President Carmichael has walked that hall. We’d love to have a more receptive result from walking down the hall. They’re very kind. They’re very responsible with how they treat us and the answer is ‘nope, go away.'”
House Judiciary Chairman John Shott, also appearing on “Talkline” today, said he has not been directly involved with budget negotiations. But Shott, R-Mercer, objects to the House being considered obstructionist.
“We are not obstructing the process. We’re willing to become actively engaged in the process. It’s just it seems that the governor has tunnel vision as to what the proper path is and doesn’t seem to be open to any other options. Right now it’s not very encouraging,” Shott said.
Shott echoed what has become a consistent complaint from House Republicans — that Justice has intentionally kept the various groups apart in discussions.
“My understanding is that the Speaker talked with Nick Casey on Monday, indicated an interest in trying to get everyone together in the same room and trying to work through the differences but after that meeting adjourned he got a call back saying the governor at this point is only interested in talking to the Senate.
“So I think the door was basically slammed on the House’s face in terms of participating in those discussions.”
Like Casey, Shott expressed concern about where the budget situation is heading. He said he’s getting a bad feeling about reaching agreement.
“I’m trying to be optimistic. I think if the pattern continues the way it does, the attacks and the effort to try to separate the House and the Senate, it’s going to be very unlikely.”