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Justice describes plan for CARES money in glowing terms; some lawmakers want a closer look

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice called his financial plan for the $1.25 billion the state has received in federal funding to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic a “masterpiece” and “rock solid” during his media briefing Monday at the state capitol.

The plan, first rolled out last Friday, has raised the eyebrows of some state lawmakers because it was done without any input from the legislative branch, which has the constitutional power to allocate funds.

Roman Prezioso

“Most of the things he’s proposed I think we would agree with,” state Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said Monday on MetroNews “Talkline.” “I just think the process needs to be honored.”

Prezioso said that process is to send the plan to state lawmakers for them to consider. Prezioso said Justice told a handful of lawmakers last Friday he didn’t want a “food fight” in the House and Senate over the money. Prezioso said he’s confident consensus could have been reached.

“You can bring the leaders of all of the parties together and we could go back to our caucuses and get some agreement to come back into session and not make a spectacle out of it and move forward,” he said.

Justice said Monday it would be easier in a way to come up with “700 different plans” for the money but none would top his plan.

“I challenge you just this, you find one plan that’s better that we’ve come up with. Our plan is rock solid,” Justice said.

The plan includes: $200 million for county and local governments, $150 million for small business grants, $100 million for COVID-19 related highway construction projects and nearly half, $687 million, of the $1.25 billion CARES Act to sure up the state’s unemployment trust fund which Justice predicts the state will eventually receive a forgivable loan to cover from the federal government.

Roger Hanshaw

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw said Monday on “Talkline” that he likes the idea of not spending all of the money.

“I think we ought to be very careful to simply spend $1.25 billion and get that deployed as quickly as we can,” Hanshaw said. “We’re not under an aggressive time clock to spend it and if we can use it in the way the governor has proposed, to draw down federal money that ultimately becomes forgivable, that is a smart play.”

Prezioso said Justice should have followed the process of allowing the legislature to do its job of allocating federal funds.

“That’s the way it’s always been. To forgo that, we don’t think that’s exactly right,” he said.

Justice said again Monday the CARES Act money is for an emergency situation.

“Those are the dollars I should administer and come up with a plan on,” he said.

Justice administration Chief Counsel Brian Abraham said last week that when the legislature approved the budget bill that takes effect July 1, it gave the governor the authority to allocate the federal funds.

“We had some consultants do the work and they came back with the legal opinion that the current budget bill prospectively does include federal dollars received after the legislature meets. We believe these funds would be incorporated in that,” Abraham said.

Prezioso said the governor’s office has promised to pass along more specifics concerning the plan this week.





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