Gov. Jim Justice defended plans to use $100 million of the state’s $1.25 billion of federal CARES Act funds for state highways funding, over criticism from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., among others.
“What does Manchin want me to do? Just send that money back to the federal government?” Justice asked during his COVID-19 briefing on Wednesday.
In an interview on the Fox News Channel, Manchin questioned the use of COVID-19 stimulus funds for road building.
“I don’t know of a pothole that has had the COVID virus. I haven’t found one yet,” Manchin said. “How they’re using it for highways and potholes, and not for people, is beyond me.”
Justice called Manchin’s comments “a political jab,” and implied that the deteriorating conditions of state roads occurred under Manchin’s watch as governor, not his.
“We could see over and over and over again that we were going to have excess money, so what did we do? We got every legal opinion we could get,” he said of getting clearance to use a portion of the funds for construction on highways that provide access to health care centers.
The Division of Highways did not respond Wednesday to a request for a list of roads to receive funding under the $100 million allocation.
Justice on Wednesday also commented on a published report of an employee of The Greenbrier resort testing positive for COVID-19.
“I know The Greenbrier resort prides itself in doing things right, and they will be following every inch of the protocols in every way,” said Justice, who said he has “almost zero” involvement in operations of the resort, owned by Justice and his family.
Also Wednesday, Department of Health and Human Resources Secretary Bill Crouch blamed the department’s failure to get clear criteria out to local health departments on how to close out active COVID-19 cases for clerical issues that caused an overreporting of active cases in Randolph County.
“We should have gotten better information out to the counties for closing these cases out,” he said.
Justice on Monday said issues with the accuracy of those numbers caused him to lose confidence in former Public Health Officer Dr. Cathy Slemp, leading to her forced resignation last Wednesday.
“The bottom line to the whole thing is somebody’s got to be responsible,” Justice said at the time. “There’s a multitude of things that surely led to my lack of confidence.”
Wednesday also marked the start of week 10 reopenings under Justice’s multiweek plan to reopen the state, with fairs and festivals, amusement parks, and outdoor concerts authorized to resume operations under state guidelines.