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Justice administration tells cabinet secretaries to start preparing for shutdown

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Justice administration tells cabinet secretaries to start preparing for shutdown
By Brad McElhinny, WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice is already telling his cabinet secretaries to start preparing for the possibility of a government shutdown.
Nick Casey, chief of staff for the governor, sent a memo this afternoon labeled: “Operating with No Budget on July 1.”

“In an abundance of caution, you need to start developing a contingency plan for all of your agencies as to how to proceed should the budget not be in place to be effective on July 1, 2017,” the memo stated.

Legislators returned to a special session today to consider a budget framework for the coming fiscal year. Although there is a bill dealing with revenue, there is not an actual budget bill yet introduced.

Today’s resumption of the special session came after a 10-day recess. The Republican majority in the state House of Delegates twice voted down a revenue package during the first two days of the session this month, contending that its tax increases go too far.

Justice added a bill allowing for the furloughing of state employees to the special session call. The bill is meant to allow for flexibility in case there’s no budget in place for the new fiscal year July 1.

“We have to prepare for the worst case scenario, and if that day comes I want to ensure all of our state workers are protected,” Justice stated in a news release. “It’s not right for our state workforce to lose their health insurance coverage or see their benefits disappear on July 1 if there is no budget in place. This bill needs to pass in order to safeguard state employees.”

Casey’s memo to cabinet secretaries expressed concern that a budget might not be in place by the new fiscal year July 1.

“Although the budget year ends June 30, 2017, as a practical matter, we need the budget by June 19, 2017, to make the necessary accounting and system adjustments to start a new budget year on July 1, 2017,” Casey wrote.

The chief of staff alluded to plans that were drawn up by state agencies about this time last year as lawmakers had trouble agreeing to a budget. “Thus, some of your organizations may already have plans that can be updated.”

Casey’s memo outlined several steps that need to be taken:

“Your planning must identify essential and non-essential services. Some are  clear. For example Corrections and appropriate housing of inmates are essential. There are, however, other services that are less clear and those need to be examined closely.

“We need specific plans ready for implementation on or before May 30, 2017. A template will be developed for this effort and distributed the week of May 15, 2017. Senior staff at the governor’s office is available to discuss and coordinate questions and concerns.”

Casey’s memo left open the hope that the state’s budget situation could be settled this week.

“If the budget can be resolved, which I hope will occur next week, then we will have eliminated the need to implement any plans.”

Appearing today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Casey said he hopes there’s no need for the furlough bill in the end.  “We want the law to be clarified, that’s why we did this to protect our folks.”

He urged the House and Senate to swiftly approve the budget plan endorsed by the governor to settle uncertainty. He said if the House continues to object to the proposal, as its Republican majority has for several weeks, it should put forward an alternative.

“This is the only plan we have,” Casey said today. “This is the plan that keeps us from going over the hill.”