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Justice frustrated by 'taxes vs. no new taxes' budget debate

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Justice frustrated by 'taxes vs. no new taxes' budget debate
By Phil Kabler, The Charleston Gazette-Mail

Gov. Jim Justice said Monday he finds it frustrating that the debate over resolving the 2017-18 West Virginia budget has been framed in terms of taxes versus no new taxes.

“We’re so fixated on, ‘Justice wants to raise your taxes,’ and the other side wants to cut and not raise taxes,” Justice said in an interview Monday.

“The bottom line is, this is not a story about raising taxes. It’s a story about having a plan,” he said.

During the regular legislative session, Justice proposed about $224 million in tax increases, to be shared by consumers, businesses and the wealthy, along with an increase in the gas tax and DMV fees to fund road-building projects, as part of an overall plan to grow the state economy.

Instead, the Legislature hurriedly passed a budget bill at the end of the session that included no tax increases but raided $90 million from the state’s Rainy Day emergency reserve funds, and cut spending by more than $160 million, with the brunt of cuts coming from higher education and Department of Health and Human Resources programs.

“The truth is, when they sent it up here, they knew it was terrible,” Justice said of the budget bill, which he vetoed in a theatrical ceremony on April 13.

“It would have been a catastrophe,” he said of signing the vetoed budget into law, which he said would certainly have led to further downgrades in the state’s bond ratings, in addition to hurting many West Virginians.

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