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Calling the Budget 'Bull-You-Know-What,' West Virginia Governor Vetoes It

Gov. Jim Justice vetoed the budget bill Thursday afternoon. That was no great surprise.

Gov. Jim Justice vetoed the budget bill Thursday afternoon. That was no great surprise.

But he did it in his own way -- at a grand show in the Capitol's Lower Rotunda. He was flanked by representatives of business, industry, labor and education.

He also stood part of the time, making use of his ever-present white boards and some new props.

"We've proven over and over how to be dead last. We've got that down pat," he said. "I've tried real hard for 60 days. I've been all over the state." He even missed grouse hunting. "At the end of the day, we still ended up nowhere."

But nowhere is not where he wanted to be, he said. "I can take the budget as it is now, and sign it, and sign the death certificate for our state."

That led him to his white boards, where he unveiled his list of all he sees wrong with the budget bill, HB 2018, passed Sunday morning.

The $4.102 billion budget, he said, lacks his proposed teacher pay raise, the income tax exemption for retired veterans, tourism marketing funds. "It just absolutely harpoons Marshall and WVU" with 12 percent cuts.

State Police faced a $1 million cut. Also not in the bill are his $8 flat fee, toll-free turnpike rides and his sliding scale for coal and gas severance taxes.

It takes $90 million from the Rainy Day Fund, he said, affecting bond ratings and raising the cost of borrowing. Next fiscal year, it leads to a $406 million deficit.

He bemoaned the death of the agreement he reached with the Senate onSaturday, which combined some of his revenue plans with Senate tax reform measures.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael touted the deal minutes after the Senate adjourned for the session, but on Tuesday urged Justice to sign the budget.

That almost-deal had little support from anti-tax House Republicans. Justice said even Democrats turned on him, not wanting the GOP to get credit for tax reform.

He fumed at the posturing and political games, as he called it. "We have got to stop the nonsense that goes on here. We have got to get to trust."

He turned to his props: Three covered serving dishes. He pulled the lid off the first two. "We don't have a nothing burger today. And we don't have a mayonnaise sandwich today."

Under the third, something flat and brown: "What we have is nothing more than a bunch of political bull-you-know-what."

He signed the veto and said, "I hope and pray that the silliness will stop, and we'll all do the right thing ... and we'll stop the bull crap."

People in the audience and people at the table from all points on the political spectrum clapped and cheered. Among them were Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America; Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association; Bob Murray, president and CEO of Murray Energy; WVU President E. Gordon Gee; the heads of both teachers' unions and Mike Clowser, with the West Virginia Contractor's Association.

Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead both expressed their displeasure with the veto.

"Today's decision by Governor Justice isn't entirely unexpected, but it's nonetheless disappointing," Carmichael said. "From the beginning, the Senate's position has been to deliver a budget to the people of West Virginia that lives within its means, and to do that within the 60 days of the regular Legislative session. We lived up to this promise. While it was our hope that the governor would have signed our reasonable and responsible budget, it's clear his vision for West Virginia's future involves a completely different path.

"We remain committed to working with both the House of Delegates and the governor to control spending," he said. "However, any compromise on this budget absolutely must include comprehensive tax reform. I truly believe tax reform is a bold way to move West Virginia forward, and I hope we will have the support of the House of Delegates and the governor to achieve this goal."

Armstead said, "I'm saddened that the governor has decided to throw our state into uncertainty and put fear and worry into the hearts of thousands of hard-working West Virginians because he didn't get his tax increases. The Legislature delivered a responsible budget that controls spending and makes our state live within its means -- a budget that received the support of an overwhelming majority of members in the Legislature.

"With his veto, the governor has guaranteed another special session," Armstead said. "This Legislature met for 60 days this year and considered proposal after proposal to raise revenue or reform our tax code, but ultimately did not reach any consensus or build enough support around any of these proposals.

"The majority of our members have heard the calls of the people they represent -- they believe they are taxed enough already and simply cannot afford to pay more for a government that continues to grow year after year."

Rob Alsop, WVU vice president for legal, government and entrepreneurial engagement, said the cut proposed for WVU was $15.7 million over the Fiscal Year 2017 budget.

WVU knew it would face cuts, he said. "That cut was way too significant and really unwarranted at a time when we should be investing in higher education." WVU hopes the next round of talks will include investment.

There was one bit of irony in the day. West Virginia Public Broadcasting was on Justice's initial budget-cut chopping block, but he reversed course on that later, following public protest.

On Thursday, folks who logged on to the governor's website for a live stream of his veto show found a video with no sound. They had to switch to the PBS website to get the video with sound.

(c)2017 The Dominion Post (Morgantown, W.Va.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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