CHARLESTON, W.Va. — At a news conference today, Governor Jim Justice said he wants a budget deal now and anyone who stands in the way should be held accountable.
“I want this to be over, and I want it to be over right now,” Justice said. “I think whoever causes it not to be over needs to be accountable; me included.”
He expressed frustrations about the lawmakers with whom he has been dealing.
“This is a dysfunctional group. They’re good people. But this is silly,” he said.
He added, “There are so many people here who, they love to do stuff that’s going to cause a bad result and then blame it on somebody else and hide behind something else, to where they don’t have to be responsible for it. Well, I’m not that way.”
Justice has been advocating for a compromise revenue bill that would raise the state sales tax to 6.35 percent and reduce the personal income tax by an average 7 percent reduction the first year, and triggered reductions of a 7 percent average the second year and 6 percent the third year.
The governor also has touted his bills that would increase funding for work on West Virginia’s highways and bridges. The proposal the governor was negotiating last week officially calculated an $100 million economic impact for the coming year and more than $200 million the years after that.
Over the last couple of weeks, Justice separated legislative leaders from both parties and both houses into different rooms and went room-to-room to seek common ground. That inspired the proposal the governor has been backing.
“It is impossible to deal with 34 senators, a hundred delegates and myself and negotiate any kind of deal. I would let anybody here try to do pull that off. Somebody else go do it — you get 134 people together that all have got an opinion on what to do and you try to figure it out.
“So then what do you do? You depend on the leadership to communicate with their caucus, and you work with the leadership — 2 or 3 or 4 from each side. I even got a really absurd question the other day from a caucus: ‘Why haven’t you listened to our ideas?’ And I thought to myself, ‘Are you kidding me? I mean really? I mean, why don’t you hear from your leadership? Why don’t they do their job?'”
During the past couple of days, though, legislative leaders have gathered together to discuss potential variations on a compromise.
“You have people trying to re-trade the deal. We’ll never have a perfect deal,” Justice told reporters this afternoon, adding that the deal on the table “is damn good.”
Among those who have expressed doubt about some aspects of the plan — particularly the effects of reducing the income tax — are Democrats in the House of Delegates.
Justice spent three hours on Monday in caucus with Democrats to try to persuade them.
Today, Justice pointed to what he believes would be the alternative to the revenue proposal on the table — potentially significant cuts to a variety of state programs. He vetoed a budget bill that would have cut millions in higher education and healthcare spending.
He said the alternative to the deal he supports is going back to one heavy on cuts. He said anyone blocking the current proposal should be considered responsible.
“I believe if you cause an event to happen and it becomes detrimental to someone else, you ought to be able to own it,” he said. “In the world I’ve lived in forevermore, when you did something and messed something up there was always consequences.
“We’ve got a lot of people who do not want to take responsibility for their actions, and I don’t think that’s right. I hope to goodness that if I’ve caused something to happen, I hope you’ll call me out on that too. I want to be held accountable just like I think everyone ought to be.”
As recently as February, The Associated Press reported that coal companies owned by Justice’s family owed $4.4 million in back taxes. Justice has not clarified how much, if any, of that debt has been paid down. During today’s comments, Justice said management of the coal companies has passed to his son.