Governor Jim Justice is notoriously thin skinned. To him, all business is personal.
Sometimes that serves him well.
Justice has taken his role in leading West Virginia through the pandemic as a personal crusade. As a result, West Virginia has fared better than many states and is now leading the nation in vaccine distribution.
But sometimes Justice sees a slight where there is none.
The House of Delegates has passed two bills that give the state legislature oversight of the Governor’s authority and spending during an emergency.
Justice is reportedly livid over the modest restraints. Apparently, he believes the legislation represents a criticism of the job he has done dealing with the pandemic.
It is not.
Here is what the bills would do:
As our Brad McElhinny reported, HB 2003 “would establish a 60-day time limit for emergency declarations unless the Legislature would extend the time. A legislative extension could last 30 days—or the Legislature could remove the declaration.”
Currently, there is no time limitation on the Governor’s emergency powers, and those powers are expansive, with no checks and balances.
McElhinny reports HB 2014 “asserts the Legislature’s role of approving expenditures, even in situations like the recent rounds of federal relief. The bill cites a $150 million limit for the Governor’s spending authority during emergencies without legislative approval.”
West Virginia has already received $1.25 billion in pandemic relief money from the federal government. If President Biden’s Covid relief bill is approved, it is estimated that West Virginia state government will receive another $1.3 billion.
That is way too much money—the equivalent of half the size of the state’s General Revenue Budget—for one person to control. As per the state Constitution, it is the responsibility of the Legislature to allocate money from the treasury through the budget or supplemental appropriations.
These measures are not punitive. As Delegate Jonathan Pinson (R-Mason) said on the House floor Friday, “The legislation before us is a statement to that effect: We are trying to ensure a balance of power.”
It is notable that both bills passed the House unanimously. Republicans and Democrats all agree that a governor’s ability to have a potentially unending state of emergency and to have sole control over the spending of billions of dollars need checks and balances.
It’s nothing personal, Governor.