CHARLESTON, W.Va. – House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, today called on Gov. Jim Justice to abandon his proposed plan that would result in massive tax increases on working West Virginians, and instead focus on options that have an actual chance of passing the House of Delegates.
“The clock is ticking,” Speaker Armstead said. “If the Governor truly wants to avoid a government shutdown on July 1, it’s time for him to start talking with all parties about possible solutions that actually have a chance of passing, instead of focusing on a plan that is doomed to failure.”
House Republican members held a conference call last week to discuss the potential tax “framework” the Governor has been negotiating with the Senate. Speaker Armstead said the message on that call was clear: the majority caucus is strongly opposed to this plan.
“Our members were strongly against this plan when they first learned of it on the final night of session,” Speaker Armstead said. “Now, with more time to learn of its components, coupled with the Governor’s childish antics since, our caucus has only become more determined to save our citizens from the historic tax increases embedded in this plan.”
Speaker Armstead said the opposition is wide-ranging among the caucus, and cannot be overcome by small tweaks to that plan.
“Many members – particularly those from border counties – have serious concerns about raising the sales tax to 7 percent,” Speaker Armstead said. “Others are philosophically opposed to the Commercial Activities Tax – which is really just the old B&O tax that this state repealed in 1987.”
Speaker Armstead said he’s tried to convey the caucus’s concerns and opposition to aspects of the plan to the Governor.
“After an initial meeting with the Governor’s chief of staff last week, it was my understanding that we were going to get the Governor, Senate leadership and House leadership in the same room to discuss a pathway forward,” Speaker Armstead said. “Within minutes of that meeting, I received a call saying the Governor only wanted to meet with Senate leadership going forward.
“It has become clear that the Governor only wants to talk with those who have bought into his massive tax increases on the people of West Virginia,” Speaker Armstead said. “The House Republican caucus has not agreed to these tax increases, and so the Governor has closed his door and his ears to the people’s elected representatives in the House.
“It’s clear Governor Justice’s concept of ‘negotiations’ is surrounding himself only with people who agree with him – he has no interest in listening to other points of view,” Speaker Armstead said. “That way of thinking is a recipe for disaster. No budget compromise will stand a chance of passing unless it has the support of the majority of members in the House.
“That means this Legislature will again have to search for a solution during another long, protracted special session – something the public absolutely does not want to happen,” Speaker Armstead said. “If the Governor wants to avoid another lengthy special session, it’s up to him to work with us on a solution that will pass.”
Speaker Armstead said instead of using the Governor’s tax-increase plan as a framework for discussions moving forward, the Governor should instead use the budget that passed the Legislature earlier this month as the starting point for the budget discussion.
“The Governor has already been presented a plan that was supported by the majority of both houses of the Legislature,” Speaker Armstead said. “Any good leader would use that as a starting point for discussion.”
Speaker Armstead said the House of Delegates has and is still committed to passing a balanced budget well before the fiscal year begins on July 1. He said the risk of a government shutdown lies with Gov. Justice.
“The Governor is now warning of a government shutdown,” Speaker Armstead said. “Whether that happens is primarily up to him. We presented him with a budget that would have avoided that and he rejected it with theatrics that have embarrassed our state.
“I truly want to avoid a government shutdown, and House Republicans have been open to many options to avoiding that – but not the massive tax increases the Governor wants,” Speaker Armstead said. “The House is willing to move forward on a plan that funds our necessary services, while also protecting our taxpayers from unreasonable new tax burdens. We’ve already passed one budget that does this, and we can do it again.
“If Governor Justice wants to avoid a government shutdown, he needs to accept reality and begin working with us on a budget plan that can move us forward and actually has a chance of passing the Legislature,” Speaker Armstead said.