Justice: Budget Negotiations Break Down Over $45M
At a press conference surrounded by Democrats from both chambers Thursday morning, Gov. Jim Justice said while his office is still willing to negotiate a budget deal with Republican leaders in the House, they reached an impasse Wednesday night.
“We’ve had all kinds of discussions and we got right to the altar," he said, "but the net of the whole thing was we couldn’t make a decision.”
That decision Justice said, is to raise taxes by $45 million in one of two ways.
Either by increasing the consumer sales tax by a quarter of a cent—or one penny on every four dollars West Virginians spend, or by increasing the cigarette tax by 15 cents and the tax on sugary drinks by 2 cents.
Those were two options Republican leaders didn’t want to choose from, according to the governor.
“We can throw the baby out with the dishwater and try to start the thing all over and it would be catastrophic to our state," he said. "The Republicans couldn’t decide what to do and then they left.”
Justice said there were a number of things his office and House Republican leaders could agree to, though.
He said both sides agreed to keep the 2 percent pay raise for teachers in the budget, which would cost the state about $20 million a year.
They also agreed to keep in place the 2 percent across the board cuts former-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin implemented in November and to some additional small cuts to the Division of Corrections, Department of Education and the Arts, and Department of Health and Human Resources, among others.
“I don’t want to cut any more than we already proposed in the beginning, but you can take a little bit of this out and it not hurt badly," he said.
"The 2 percent across the board if I had my way I wouldn’t go along with it, but you’ve got to understand, everybody’s said over and over, you know Justice won’t compromise, but Justice is sitting here telling you that you have to compromise on things to get to where we want to get to.”
Justice said he wants that additional $45 million in taxes, but his two options, the increased sales tax or sin taxes, those aren’t the only options.
“I’m not going to say, well, it has to be this way or I’m going to veto it. All I’m going to say is the philosophy has to be you cannot paralyze our state and cut things that are imperative to our state and me not veto it," he said.
Justice said he does not see a need to extend the regular session to work on the budget and wants to come to some kind of agreement with Republican leaders.
The final day of the 60 day legislation session is Saturday, April 8.