CHARLESTON, W.Va. — More than a month after Gov. Jim Justice let a state budget become law without his signature, state leaders continue to gripe about who failed.
First, Governor Jim Justice took a shot at legislators — again — in Welch.
Then Senate President Mitch Carmichael, who was among Justice’s strongest allies during the extended legislative session, fired back at Justice via an emailed statement.
“It’s unfortunate that more than a month after he made the decision to allow a responsible budget become law without his signature, that the Governor still cannot stop blaming others for his failure to lead,” Carmichael stated.
During his “Jim’s Promise” tour meant to highlight the effects of state road construction, Justice again described his disappointment that legislators did not pass his preferred state budget package.
“I am horrendously disappointed in our Legislature,” Justice said before an audience in Welch. “I mean, you don’t realize, you do not realize what we did and what we walked away from.”
Justice has described his frustration regularly since June 21, the day he announced he was too disgusted to put his signature on a $4.2 billion budget bill but would let it become law.
The governor had wanted a $4.35 billion budget. What was passed did not raise taxes for the general fund. The budget kept Medicaid spending even but filled in through transfers and expected surpluses. There was also a $16 million cut across higher education and spending reductions in areas such as fairs and festivals and state-promoted arts programs.
Justice continues to say even more was sacrificed such as tax rebate checks for low-income residents, personal income tax reductions for those making less than $100,000, teacher payraises, an expanded budget for tourism advertising and severance tax breaks for struggling coal companies.
“And what did we do? We just walked away,” Justice said.
The last incarnation of a revenue bill favored by the governor also would have raised sales taxes to 6.5 percent and would have added taxes to additional economic sectors.
Those who voted against that package also expressed concern that the income tax reductions could result in larger budget holes in coming years — a prediction depicted by financial analysts for several incarnations of the proposal.
The final of many versions of the plan would have personal income taxes by an average 5 percent starting Jan. 1, 2018, followed by triggered cuts of 5 percent each of the following three years — for an average 20 percent cut over the full four-year period.
An estimate of the fiscal effects of that revenue package that was being distributed during the final days of the special session didn’t show deeper holes — but it also didn’t show the triggers being hit at all.
That revenue plan also, mathematically, left the budget about $47 million short of balanced.
Justice told the crowd in Welch he will continue to fight this battle.
“You have a hard-headed fighter in me,” he said, “and I’m not going to put up with them doing that stuff. They might not like me for it, but at the end of the day I’m not trying to win a popularity contest. I’m trying to run our state for you, and I’m trying to bring goodness for you.”
Carmichael said the Senate voted for Justice’s proposal. He said it’s Justice’s fault that the House of Delegates did not.
“Rather than constantly complain and whine about what he believes the Legislature failed to do, he should recognize what the Senate did, which was overwhelmingly pass his initiatives. The simple fact he could not get the same initiatives passed in the House of Delegates rests solely at his feet, and not at the feet of the Legislature,” Carmichael stated.
Carmichael added, “It is wholly dishonest for Governor Justice to continue to blame the entire Legislature for his inability to lead as the state’s chief executive. Over the last three years, the Legislature has passed significant legislation aimed at helping our state’s coal miners, seniors, disabled, veterans and working families in general. To claim that the Legislature has walked away from these West Virginians is sad and ridiculous. The Governor’s time would be much better spent focusing on his actual responsibilities as the state’s Chief Executive Officer, instead of crying about the Legislature on a daily basis.”
Delegate John Overington, a 33-year veteran of the House of Delegates, said last week in a conversation on WEPM’s “Panhandle Live” that he’s never seen the like.
“I think the public is wondering about the governor as well,” said Overington, R-Berkeley.
“Good public relations is you don’t attack or criticize. In the legislative process we learn very quickly that if you disagree with somebody you don’t go out and attack them because tomorrow is another day and a different issue, and they may be one of your strongest allies.
“The governor is not trying to build bridges. He’s more burning bridges. We accept the fact he does not have any unique public relations experience before he was elected. Most governors are more familiar with the process and try to to work with their colleagues. But the governor hasn’t done that.”
Overington said he has never served with a governor who consistently went on offense against legislators even after they’d left town.
“Normally it would be a matter of looking down the road and seeing what issues we can work together on in the future,” Overington said. “We still have a lot of challenges in West Virginia.
“Of the governors that I’ve served with, and I think it’s probably been six or seven governors — starting with Arch Moore and the second governor I served with was Gaston Caperton. Gaston Caperton was in many ways similar to Jim Justice in the sense that he was a multimillionaire and he had never held public office before. But his style was 100 percent different from Jim Justice. It was trying to work together, trying to find solutions, trying to find common ground.
“And looking at when you deal with one problem, you move on to the next problem; you don’t try to rehash why you didn’t get your way.”
Such exchanges between the governor and legislative leaders — of both parties — have been commonplace in the month since the budget wasn’t signed.
“The governor has said — his phrase — he’s going to go out on the mountaintop, and he’s not happy with the cuts that had to be made because he didn’t get his way on all the taxes he wanted to raise,” House Speaker Tim Armstead said July 3 on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”
“I’m going on the mountaintop too. I’m not going to allow the Legislature to be blamed for things it did not cause and certainly didn’t cause to the degree that they’re being done. We’re going to set the facts straight. We’re not going to let this kind of disinformation go without a response.”
During the June 21 ceremony when he didn’t sign the budget, the Democratic governor laid blame on legislative Democrats.
“The House leadership is surely, surely questionable on both sides,” Justice said. “I’m really, really disappointed with the Democrats because they were family.”
Reacting minutes later on MetroNews “Talkline,” House Minority Leader Tim Miley said he was frustrated by the governor’s remarks. Miley said Justice blamed Democrats when Republicans hold large majorities in the House and Senate.
“I could be personal, but I’m not going to be. I know it’s his first time as governor,” said Miley, D-Harrison.
“But for him to blame everyone but himself is a problem that’s going to follow him the next three years.”
Miley added, “Every time I hear the governor blame everybody but himself I feel like I’m in junior high school.”
That day, Miley said the last revenue package the governor supported actually remained about $47 million shy of balancing the budget.
“If he wants to send up responsible legislation then he’ll get his legislation passed,” Miley said. “What he sent up, with regard to his plan, was not.
“I’m sorry, I’m not going to stand behind a budget that doesn’t even balance the year you’re working on.”
Another top Democrat, Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, responded to Justice’s criticism that day by saying his party was with the governor right up until the end of the regular session, when the governor announced he was supporting income tax reductions favored by Senate Republicans.
“In the last two hours of the regular session, a complete change of programs and issues,” Prezioso said on “Talkline” on June 21.
Prezioso said he shares the governor’s criticism of the budget that wound up passing.
“It’s a terrible budget. We’re going to have to come back next year and do this again,” said Prezioso, D-Marion.