Enough already. Gov. Jim Justice needs to call a special session of the West Virginia Legislature to decide spending of federal CARES Act funding.
It’s true that West Virginia, along with every other state in the country, is in the middle of a crisis, and governors are being asked to do a lot in navigating a response to the coronavirus, as the federal government has practically abdicated all responsibility, except to appropriate funds.
In all, this is $1.25 billion in federal money that West Virginia needs to decide how to spend. There’s little clear information on how that money is going out or where. This kind of spending program isn’t something to be taken lightly, and it isn’t up to Gov. Justice to pick and choose where that money should go. His announcement last month that $100 million would be spent on roads was enough to raise eyebrows. A road project from money for a pandemic response seems like a political play, especially when the governor is up for reelection in November.
Justice’s daily coronavirus news briefings often veer into political territory, even though the governor continues to claim this isn’t a political issue. And it shouldn’t be, but Justice isn’t being honest when he claims such neutrality.
If he’s concerned about politics, Justice should look at how this might backfire on him. The transparency about how this money is being prioritized and handled just isn’t there, and it’s not up to the governor to appropriate it all. The Legislature needs to have a say. Its members likely will follow whatever general game plan Justice lays out, with a few adjustments.
So why not do this the right way?
Overall, Gov. Justice has handled this crisis fairly well. West Virginia is certainly looking better under him right now than Georgia under Brian Kemp, or Florida with Ron DeSantis at the helm, where precautions have been ignored and reopenings rushed, leading to horrible spikes in cases.
Gov. Justice has done the right thing in pushing back school openings, closing down bars in one county when cases sharply increased, and mandating masks to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Those were all difficult decisions, and the governor showed he could put the health of West Virginians above everything else.
But he’s not a one-man government, especially when it comes to distributing more than a billion dollars. Legislators know what the needs in their communities are, and those needs are unique for each part of West Virginia.
A three-day special session would help get a transparent plan in place, and give everyone a voice in how to handle this funding. The session itself also must be conducted in a safe way, with legislators wearing masks and keeping their distance from one another.
It’s time to bring all of this under control. Gov. Justice needs to call a special session now.