Governor Justice sounds grave warnings about budget

Hoppy’s Commentary

The early days of the new administration of Governor Jim Justice have been relatively quiet, at least on the public front, but that’s about to change.

Behind the scenes, his team—particularly Chief of Staff Nick Casey—has been working constantly on the state’s budget challenge. You’ve heard it many times by now; the state faces an estimated $400 million shortfall for the next fiscal year starting July 1.

Casey is serious about recommending deep cuts in spending to try to bring the approximately $4 billion General Revenue portion of the budget into balance, and the new Governor is finding out just how bad things are.

Justice, during an appearance before the Beckley-Raleigh County Chamber of Commerce this week, used ominous—and colorful—language to describe the state’s budget challenges.

“The depression is beyond belief,” he’s quoted in the Beckley Register-Herald as saying. “If you think we’re in bad shape, you just don’t have an earthly what bad really is.”
Justice has promised to turnaround the state’s economy this year, and there are signs of improvement, however, the Governor appears to be tempering that prediction.

“It’s going to take awhile,” he said. And then, as only he can do, Justice provided a graphic metaphor about the state’s finances. “We have a patient laying there and blood is shooting to the ceiling. All in the world we can do is trim the toenails. Blood is shooting to the ceiling. We’ve got to do something.”

Classic Justice.

He’s unfailingly optimistic when talking about the possibilities, but equally foreboding when discussing state government’s fiscal dilemma. He added exclamation points during his Beckley address. “It’s dire, dire, dire.” And, “I don’t mean kind of bad. It’s really bad.”

The big “something” starts with cutting spending—not nominal tweaks around the margins, but substantive reductions that will fundamentally change the state. These will be painful and politically difficult.

I sense that Justice is willing to take the lead on these tough decisions. If so, the leaders of the Republican majorities in the House and Senate say they will follow suit. But the heavy lifting begins with the new Governor, and we can expect him to detail his plans for right-sizing the state’s finances beginning with the State-of-the-State address February 8th.

The same sincerity and earthy manner that served him well during the campaign are now even more valuable as he shares with West Virginians the extent of the budget problem and rallies support for the difficult steps he must take to fix it.