The tension between Governor Jim Justice and the Legislature has overflowed, and this time the issue is toilets.
Justice fired off a press release Wednesday morning ripping into the State Senate for spending $860,000 to renovate eight bathrooms on the West side (the Senate side) of the State Capitol. “Based on how poorly the Legislature did this past year, the taxpayers shouldn’t pay them for a new outhouse—much less a new luxury bathroom.”
“We’ve got schools with bathrooms that don’t work and these politicians want the taxpayers to pay for gold-plated toilets? You’ve got to be kidding me,” railed the Governor in his release.
There was barely enough time for a toilet to refill after a flush before an angry Senate President Mitch Carmichael responded on Talkline. “The man’s lost his mind,” Carmichael fumed. “He talks about gold-plated this and that. This is ridiculous. This press release needs to be flushed down the toilet.”
Renovations for all of the bathrooms in the Capitol have been talked about for years. The restrooms are in disrepair and they do not meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards. Senate leaders decided to go ahead with the project this year and work is already underway.
Three of the bathrooms are available primarily to members of the Senate and staff, while the other five are public restrooms. One of the small private bathrooms is in the Senate President’s Office.
MetroNews’ Brad McElhinny reports, “The plans for the upgrades have been vetted and approved by the Capitol Building Commission to ensure the changes reflect the integrity of the original architecture of the building.”
The bathrooms do need upgraded, especially since hundreds of handicapped people come to the Capitol every year. However, $860,000 is a very steep price, and that is the point the Governor is trying to make.
“If the facilities are so bad for our lawmakers, I’m happy to get them an outhouse delivered to the Capitol grounds,” Justice said. Given that earlier this year Justice delivered a pile of bull manure on a platter to the lower rotunda, the outhouse isn’t out of the question.
Once we get past all the bathroom puns, there are two significant points here:
First, could the renovations have been done at a lower cost or not at all? The state just started the new fiscal year with an $11 million deficit. The budget is going to be very tight again this year so the optics of Capitol bathroom replacements are bad, even if the work is overdue.
Second, why would the Governor go after Carmichael, the only Legislative leader who consistently had Justice’s back during the budget debacle? Justice will say emphatically that he couldn’t care less about the politics of it all—and that may play in this instance because we’re talking about $860,000 for bathrooms—but his success or failure in the long game depends on building bonds with legislative leaders.
Wednesday another one of those relationships was flushed down the toilet.