Gov. Justice urges Democrat, Republican lawmakers to get along
CHARLESTON — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice wants Republicans and Democrats to be polite to each other as they work to come to an agreement during the last half of the Legislature’s regular 2017 session.
“Hopefully, we can be ladies and gentlemen, respect one another and get where we want to get to,” he said Thursday to media members and legislators at the West Virginia Press Association’s annual Legislative Breakfast in Charleston.
Meanwhile, Justice said West Virginia Republicans’ actions are confusing: they aren’t looking out for the little guy, while the state’s Democrats are “bold and courageous.”
The rub is regarding the partisan split as the Legislature works to balance the fiscal 2018 state budget. Specifically, there is disagreement on how to make up the $450 million shortfall.
Republicans, including Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, have criticized Justice’s proposed budget for its numerous tax increases. Democrats, meanwhile, have been equally as critical of Republicans’ suggestions that include converting to an income tax structure, and making more spending cuts than Justice proposed.
Justice used war metaphors to describe Republicans’ proposed cuts. Each time a cut is made, he said, it represents harm to actual people, Justice said Thursday, scolding the state’s “basketful of Republicans,” who, he said, are “taking scalps.”
“We do not need scalps to be able to get there,” Justice said.
Although Justice urged West Virginians to offer “respect and love” to Republicans for what they are trying to do, he also praised Democrats’ efforts to support his budget proposal for fiscal 2017-18, that includes tax increases.
“You should really give them their due because they’re trying.”
He said Democrats are acting courageously during this legislative session.
“Today you’ve got a basketful of Democrats that are willing to step out … and be West Virginians … and say ‘we need to not cut our people more.'”
Rather, they support Justice’s plan to raise revenue and “lay on some level of taxes,” no matter how unpopular the idea.
“It takes courage to do that, because your constituents may very well just stand back and throw rocks at you, right?” Justice said.
Justice also urged legislators to be West Virginians, rather than partisan, and to work toward progress.
“If you’ve got people standing in the way of progress, they’ve gotta get out of the way,” he said.
Justice, who has also been a Republican in the past, said he chose to run as a Democrat because “I was and am more in tune with the average, every day West Virginian that’s really hurting.”
The problem with the Republican Party is that they support more cuts. “We cut this, we cut that,” he said of past gubernatorial administrations. “Everything you do, something that cuts, it’s somebody. It’s a family,” he said. “That somebody might decide to go to Tennessee, and our revenue is smaller.”
However, on Thursday, Justice also aligned himself with some of U.S. President Donald Trump’s platform.
“The president of the free world says, ‘Think of America First.’ “I’ve said over and over we’ve got to think of West Virginians first,” Justice said.
Trump also said ‘let’s don’t hurt our seniors and our vets, let’s grow. “Doesn’t this sound terribly familiar?” Justice said.
Trump says ‘Let’s work together,’ Justice explained. And I’ve said over and over: I don’t care if you’re a Democrat, Republican or Independent.
“So, I’m totally confused, because I can’t see our Republicans working for the benefit of business. I can’t see our Republicans bonding with the president of the free world; I don’t see our Republicans looking out for the little guy. … I can see boldness and courage from our Democrats and you should note that duly, too.”
Justice said he would go along with 100 percent of any waste that is unnecessary, but will not just go along with, for example, $200 million in cuts as Republicans had suggested.
“It doesn’t make one hill of beans of sense to me to say ‘you like the desert, and I like Alaska, so we’re going to end up in Iowa. Let’s only end up in Iowa if that’s the right place to end up. Let’s only end up on a path of righteousness.”