Recently, Gov. Jim Justice was asked why he will not allow the West Virginia Legislature to come into special session to administer the $1.25 billion in federal aid money the state has received. He said the Democrats would probably recommend that West Virginians get the money directly, in the form of stimulus payments of $2,000 per person. Since he doesn’t want that, he figures he can get the Republicans to vote against it, but said he didn’t want them to have to do it because it might hurt them in the election.
Who exactly is “playing politics,” to use one of Justice’s favorite expressions?
The fact is, West Virginia is supposed to be governed democratically — small “d.” That means, we vote and our representatives vote on how the state is to be run. The West Virginia Constitution provides that, “The legislative, executive and judicial departments shall be separate and distinct, so that neither shall exercise the powers properly belonging to either of the others; nor shall any person exercise the powers of more than one of them at the same time.” In other words, it’s not a one-man show, no matter how big and rich that one man may be.
A super-majority of the House of Delegates has called for a session so the people’s elected representatives may have their say regarding the disposition of the federal money sent to help West Virginians during this pandemic. But Justice is acting like the money goes into his personal piggy bank to spend however he wants. And so far it’s gone mostly nowhere and helped no one.
Maybe Gov. Justice is inventing a complicated corporate structure to shield the money from taxes, or his creditors.
But it’s not his money, it’s West Virginia’s money. And it is just plain wrong to deny the people’s representatives the opportunity to do their job and represent them in Charleston. The governor is not a king and should work with the other branches of the government, instead of claiming his word is law and only he decides where the money goes.
Other states — run by Democrats and Republicans — have governors who can be respectful of others and work as a team, and they have been spending that money to help citizens and boost the economy in a challenging time. It’s not as though there isn’t any need for these funds. But West Virginia’s money is just sitting there while Justice says maybe he’ll spend it on his road projects or who-knows-what, but he won’t be allowing the Legislature to have a say.
Jim Justice has a terrible track record with money and not just when it comes to his own taxes and bills. West Virginia received $150 million to aid the people affected by the floods in 2016. Almost four years later, Justice has managed to get less than one-fifth of that money out the door, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Ebenezer Scrooge couldn’t be tighter with a dollar when West Virginians are in need than Jim Justice is. Get cracking, or give way to others who will.
The reason our economy hasn’t cratered even further, with mass evictions and foreclosures, is that federal money was made directly available to workers to keep their families fed and under roof. The Legislature could come into session and make sure that this aid money goes directly into the pockets of West Virginians in the same way, and thereby keep folks’ heads above water. If Jim Justice won’t lead, he should at least get out of the way so this can happen.
The money should not sit forever, waiting for the governor to have an idea. It should not be used to grease the wheels for his vanity projects or for his business pals. Above all, it should not be held hostage because Justice thinks his Republican majorities would be damaged by having to — gasp — debate the issues in the Capitol.
We’re talking about $1.25 billion of West Virginia’s money. It is not for one man alone to spend however he sees fit. The money should be subject to the democratic process and the considered judgment of all three branches of government. And that process needs to start right now.