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Gov. Jim Justice to let state budget become law

Declines to sign or veto legislation

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice is shown during a March visit to Wheeling. Justice announced Wednesday he still does not like the $4.225 billion budget plan passed by the state Legislature. Justice said he won’t sign it, allowing the bill to become law.

CHARLESTON — West Virginia will have a budget in place and state government will avoid a shutdown, which local lawmakers said was the aim of the budget passed.

Gov. Jim Justice announced Wednesday he still does not like the $4.225 billion budget plan passed by the state Legislature during the recent special session and would veto it if he had a choice. But Justice said he won’t sign it, allowing the bill to become law if he, as governor, takes no action on it.

”If you want my true feelings about what we have, I think we have a travesty,” Justice said. ”I can’t possibly sign this, because of the pain it is going to cause so many people and the direction it puts us in basically solving none of our problems.”

The governor said he will allow the bill to become law so people employed by the state and who receive benefits from the state will not be impacted by a government shutdown.

”I am going to let it go into law,” he said. ”We can’t afford to hurt the innocent more.”

The budget passed will not give teachers a pay raise and there will remain 718 classrooms in the state without a teacher, the governor said. The budget cuts a lot of funding to fairs and festivals as well as the tourism department to promote the state to travelers.

It also includes significant cuts to higher education. Money that would have been available to battle the state’s drug epidemic is now gone, Justice said.

The governor talked about “budget holes” that will be created because of estimates that say money will be available at certain points that will be used to fund Medicaid and Department of Health and Human Resources programs, but describe it as “one-time money.”

”What if it doesn’t come?” Justice asked. ”What are we going to do? I had a plan on the table that addressed all of this.”

Justice originally proposed around $450 million being raised through tax and fee increases, which many lawmakers were against doing.

The governor is happy that the budget does include a roads package.

”The road plan is historic,” Justice said. ”It will create tens of thousands of jobs. It is a great plan and historic.”

The plan would have around 500 projects that would be worked on in the next few years.

Lawmakers said there was money to get some work started; a bond issue will go to the voters sometime in the coming months, through a special election, to fully fund the plan.

Local lawmakers said the state has a responsible budget that will go into effect and will avoid a shutdown.

Delegate John Kelly, R-Wood, said he was disappointed in the governor’s speech where the governor pointed fingers at the Legislature over problems with what the budget did and not do.

”We don’t see him pointing any fingers at himself,” Kelly said. ”He did not work well with the Legislature.”

Justice tried to bully and strongarm people into doing what he wanted, which included massive tax increases, Kelly said.

”People didn’t like it,” Kelly said.

”We have a budget that allows us to live within our means,” Kelly said. ”It is a good budget and a fair budget. It is not a tax and spend budget.”

Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood, said he is fine with the governor not signing the bill since it will become law anyway.

”I don’t agree with what he said,” Criss said.

The governor has been this way since the start of his administration, laying the blame elsewhere, Criss said. The public was not in favor of the tax increases Justice was proposing and the House took a stand, Criss said.

Criss said if more revenue comes in than was expected, adjustments can be made to things like higher education and DHHR programs so the cuts made would not be as deep.

”I am glad there will not be a shutdown,” Criss said.

Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, said the budget going into law is not much different than the initial budget the Legislature passed at the end of the regular session that Justice did veto.

”He should have went ahead and signed the first one,” she said of the expense the state endured to fund a special session that lasted 15-20 days.

The budget going into law did not have any money taken from the state’s Rainy Day Fund and cuts were not as deep as they were once expected to be, Boley said. If revenues coming in end up more than anticipated, money will be available to make up for some of the cuts to higher education and elsewhere, she said.

”I think the budget is fine,” Boley said.

Legislators will return to Charleston to take care of any remaining business. Right now, no one has mentioned any technical issues regarding the budget that will need to be addressed.

Although an agreement could not be worked out regarding tax reform during the special session, Boley hopes it can be worked on during the upcoming interim sessions.

During the special session, lawmakers only had two meetings with state tax officials, Boley said. She was upset lawmakers were not able to ask them more direct questions on how revenues were figured.

She wants those issues given back to the Finance Committee.

Boley said she is glad the budget will go into effect.

”Now people will be able to enjoy their summer,” she said.

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