Governor Justice is fond of spicing up his speeches with old adages and bits of folksy wisdom. One of my favorites that he used during the tax debate was, “We need to quit counting the egg-sucking legs on the cows and count the cows and just move.”
In other words, do not get bogged down in the details; pass the tax bill.
But here is another idiom Justice should have kept in mind: be careful what you wish for.
Last Friday, Justice pounded the House of Delegates relentlessly for failing to consider a modified tax bill that narrowly cleared the Senate 18-16.
“If I were in the supermajority, I’d be dog if I’d sit there and say we’re not even going to take it up,” Justice said.
He went on to accuse Delegates of kowtowing to special interests and of being afraid of a tough vote.
“I would hate to be a Delegate that is sitting on their hands today,” Justice continued. “When the people of this state believe you cost them significant money in their pockets. I’d hate like crazy to stand on that.”
Most House Republicans were never supportive of the Governor’s plan, or the modified proposal from the Senate, because it included increases in the state sales tax, as well as other taxes, to offset the decline in revenue.
There was no point in taking up the bill in the House because the votes simply were not there. However, once goaded by the Governor, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw decided to give Justice what he wished for.
The bill did not receive one single vote. It failed 0-100… an unheard of outcome in the chamber. Hanshaw then made the understatement of the session: “The Governor suggested perhaps that we were afraid to take a vote, and we were happy to do that—and we did.”
That was a stunning rebuke of the Governor, and it confirmed the prevailing wisdom throughout the tax debate—there simply was not a groundswell of support for the tax plan. If Republican Delegates had received a bunch of emails or phone calls in favor of the plan, somebody in the House would have voted for it.
Not one did.
As I have said many times, Governor Justice deserves credit for thinking big and pushing proposals he believes will be transformative for West Virginia. However, Justice is also a businessman and surely knows the theory of fair market value—the price at which a willing buyer and a willing seller can agree.
Justice was a willing and motivated seller of his idea for a major overhaul of the state’s tax system, but there were no willing buyers in the House of Delegates. That was obvious even before he pressed for a vote.
Or, put another way, if House Republicans were to borrow from the Governor’s lexicon, they were wary of buying a pig in a poke.