Signal Boost – July 2017

Signal Boost

by Jack Deskins

On one of the Facebook pages I follow, someone asked why the Governor had refused to sign the budget that the Legislature passed in their recent special session. A friend responded, “A billionaire CEO, used to getting his way and without any experience in public service, finds that governing is more difficult than he imagined. Stop me if you’ve heard this before.”

Indeed, comparisons between West Virginia’s Democratic Governor and the Republican Chief Executive of the nation are easy to make. Both are bold with ideas but light on details of their plans. Both foster a relatable “everyman” image, the President through his monosyllabic Twitter exclamations and unrefined tastes, the Governor through his irregular grammar and platters of bovine manure. It is clear after watching both in office for five months that their chief concern is protecting the interest of the ruling class.

The budget that was passed over an exceptionally contentious legislative session left nothing for anyone. Facing a half-billion dollar funding gap, the Governor and his Republican allies (in the Senate especially) fought for tax cuts for the rich, financed through a program of austerity and a raised sales tax that would disproportionately affect the state’s working families. Legislative Democrats fought these and sought to protect revenue streams that would allow the state to continue to maintain services at the current level. Tempers flared and heated words were exchanged, including one remark by Sen. Karnes (Republican – Florida) that caused lawmakers to walk out en masse. In the end, neither side got what it wanted.

Democrats managed to face down so-called “tax reform” — tax cuts for the rich. However, Republicans struck back with cuts to public and higher education (among other services) that will put a strain on already burdened institutions.

Presented with the bill, Governor Justice, much like another governor in Palestine a couple millennia ago, washed his hands of the affair and sent the people of West Virginia to face the consequences. He allowed the budget to go into effect without a signature or veto. Most remarkably, he managed to place the shortcomings of the budget squarely on the shoulders of the members of his own party, though they are the minority in both chambers. He even complained of a shortage of time, seeming to forget that he’d wasted most of the month pushing to lower his own tax burden — though this is somewhat understandable when one remembers Mr. Justice began the year owing the state more than $4 million in unpaid taxes. After his first legislative session, it may be that some will accuse the Governor of being self-serving, ignorant, and even incompetent. But you certainly cannot call him a class traitor.