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Saving our state is more than a catchphrase

If there’s one thing the people of West Virginia can take away after just over a month of Governor Jim Justice’s term, it would be that he’s got a tremendous gift for asking people for one thing, while doing the opposite.

Back in early January, Senate President Mitch Carmichael proudly endorsed the governor’s campaign pledge to present a balanced budget to the Legislature that didn’t “raise taxes.” He said he was confident the governor would honor his pledge to the state’s voters, and he was eager to work side-by-side with him on a budget that wouldn’t burden our citizens with any additional taxes.

Oddly, a short time later, then Governor-elect Justice released a statement: “Justice Encourages State Leaders to Avoid Partisan Posturing.” In the statement, he said that voters were clearly tired of political posturing, and it would take sincere efforts to solve our budget crisis — a crisis that no political games would help because we had one common enemy, “the financial dog’s mess we’re in.”

Given the governor’s obvious stated opposition to what he perceives to be political games, it is somewhat amusing to see how he’s continued to try to peddle West Virginians some magic beans masked as the biggest tax increase in our state’s history. Right out of the gate, his office released a very official sounding “Alternative Budget — Fiscal Year 2018: $450 Million in Cuts and 3,000 Jobs Lost.”

That certainly does sound terrifying, but do you know what it is not? The “sincere effort” he asked for back in January. The laundry list of scare tactics includes cutting all of our state’s colleges except for WVU and Marshall. It takes away money to public libraries, services for the elderly and the disabled, and more.

It seemed pretty clear with this absolutely irrational “scorched earth” scenario, the governor was intent on doing some political posturing of his own: The Legislature needs to approve these “revenue enhancements,” (read: tax increases) or residents would stand to lose, well, just about everything.

As the first full week of the legislative session got under way, the governor decided it was time to double down. On Tuesday, the governor’s office sent out a press release that said if the Legislature would adopt his “Save Our State” plan — a vaguely defined plan that dumps $105 million into the state’s Commerce Department for its Development Office and Tourism division — he wouldn’t have to cut the budget of money for state fairs and festivals. He says in his release that he “hates to hurt community events” but if the Legislature didn’t adopt his “plan to bring prosperity to West Virginia” (read: agree to a tax increase of $450 million dollars) then the cuts to these fairs and festivals “will only be the tip of the iceberg.” Again, his intent was clear: It’s me vs. the Legislature.

The next day, Governor Justice followed up with a three-minute long sales pitch video urging citizens to call the Legislature and ask them to please saddle the taxpayers of the state with a $450 million burden on the hope and dream that those tax increases will bring with them jobs, hope, and a bright future for West Virginia. He asked West Virginians to just “pay a little,” while he refuses to pay a lot. That doesn’t seem very fair.

The citizens of this state overwhelmingly elected a governor whose promised plan was to find a solution to our state’s financial woes that didn’t involve putting additional burden on struggling families. This “Save Our State” plan was not the plan Governor Justice asked the citizens to vote for.

However, I can say with confidence that the Legislature is committed to saving our state, especially from the unchecked tax-and-spend policies that have failed us for far too long. Policies our new governor was quick to adopt to preserve the status quo. The Republican members of both the House and Senate are working tirelessly to hold up our end of the bargain to find sincere solutions, not scare tactics, to this budget crisis. We believe the solutions to this problem won’t come from asking for more, but from doing more with less.

We can only hope that our governor will come around to support that same goal.

(Ferns is majority leader of the West Virginia State Senate. He represents the First Senate District. A licensed physical therapist, he is owner of The Ryan Ferns Healthplex Inc. in Benwood.)

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