PARKERSBURG - The West Virginia Democratic Party has returned fire against state GOP Chairman Mike Stuart.
Democratic Party Chairman Larry Puccio is countering recent claims by Stuart and his attacks on Democratic lawmakers for supporting pay hikes for state employees and on spending. The Republican chairman said because of a leadership vacuum after Joe Manchin became a U.S. senator, the in-fighting between Democrat leaders who want to be governor has allowed lobbyists and special interests "to hijack the legislative agenda."
Democrats also point to a February release by Stuart criticizing Attorney General Darrell McGraw for not participating in a lawsuit with another state, however, the case was confused with another in which McGraw was involved on the side of American Electric Power.
"Does the Republican Party really make so many mistakes in their press releases, or is this a pattern of misleading the public?"said Puccio, who was a chief of staff under former Gov. Joe Manchin, said.
"The real story about West Virginia is that we have enjoyed responsible government led by Democrats. We have been able to avoid the deep budget cuts and tax increases that most states are faced with. West Virginia's responsible Democratic leadership has cut the food tax in half, paid down billions in debts for state retirement systems, cut business franchise taxes, and we are one of very few states that still has a surplus," Puccio said. "West Virginia Democrats will continue to promote our state in a positive way, unlike the Republican Party which is always tearing us down and even calling us hicks."
Stuart, who became chairman last year, on Thursday said massive spending bills have been passed or are advancing, including pay raises of more than $70 million per year for teacher, $6 million for judges and a bonus bill for public employees, of which 15 Republicans voted for the bonus including Wood County's delegation.
Nothing has been done to reduce spending, Stuart said.
"While Democrat Chairman Larry Puccio proudly calls the massive spending increases 'responsible,' I suspect his support of hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending has more to do with his job as a lobbyist for the special interest," Stuart said. "Lobbyists never advocate cutting government waste. They don't work for or care about the taxpayers," continued Stuart. "Puccio is a lobbyist. How can you be a lobbyist and Chairman for the state's majority party?"
On Tuesday, Stuart cited the unemployment numbers from WorkForce West Virginia where joblessness reached 10.3 percent in January and out-of-work residents rose to 79,500. Also on Tuesday, Stuart cited a bill from the House Judiciary Committee calling for a constitutional amendment where counties and municipalities can pass bonds and levies by a simple majority rather than by 60 percent approval.
"Shame on the liberal Democrats in the House for trying to make levy tax increases easier to pass," he said.
Stuart on Feb. 28 said the teachers pay increase should be tied to educational reforms.
"Any legislator voting for this pay raise is caving to the pressure of the teachers' union. Year after year, we hear the perpetual call for higher teacher pay," Stuart said. "The sad reality is that until teachers and their unions begin to support serious reforms, we should reject throwing more money at the problem."
Stuart on Friday issued another statement, saying Tomblin, House Speaker Rick Thompson and Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler "have proven they are fiscally irresponsible and tools of the special interest," Congress is debating spending cuts, but the Legislature hasn't reduced anything, he said.
"State spending is totally out of control," Stuart said. "Is Charlie Sheen running this mess?"