By PHIL KABLER
A day after West Virginia House Democrats called on him to work with Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, to bring the special legislative session on education to an immediate end, Gov. Jim Justice said Wednesday he first wants to see if the House is able to resolve issues with the Senate.
"If we get to where we're just batting stuff back and forth, that's not beneficial," Justice said after a news conference to tout strong state tax collection.
"If we get into doing that, then there may be some merit," he said of House Democrats' call for him to prevent a potential impasse over education by convincing Hanshaw to end the special session without scheduling a later one.
House Democrats contend that Senate leaders are pushing ahead with an omnibus education bill that includes charter schools and perceived retaliatory measures against teachers, even though the bill appears to lack public support and is similar to legislation the House killed in the regular session.
In a letter delivered Tuesday to the Governor's Office, House Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, stated: "There is currently such dysfunction between the legislative and executive branches of West Virginia's government that the likelihood of a protracted special session seems to be assured, and at great, unnecessary expense to the West Virginia taxpayer."
Justice said Wednesday he hopes the Legislature avoids that scenario.
"I hope to goodness we won't do that, because I want our people to get their 5 percent pay raise," the governor said. "If we end it, we're not going to achieve that, but if all we're going to do is bat stuff back and forth, then we're just going to waste money."
Shortly before the general election last fall, Justice staged an announcement with House and Senate leaders pledging that public school teachers and school service personnel would receive a second round of pay raises averaging 5 percent this year.
The pay raise is included in the Senate's omnibus bill (Senate Bill 1039) and in a standalone House bill (House Bill 134).
House leaders have assigned that chamber's bills to four select committees that will begin reviewing them, presumably along with the Senate bill, when the House resumes the special session on Monday.
In a statement Tuesday regarding the House Democrats' call to end the session, Hanshaw said, "We are currently continuing the process of working with our members to receive feedback on what ideas have support to pass the House, and when we reconvene Monday, we will proceed based off of that input."
Justice's comments Wednesday followed a news conference to tout strong tax collection for the current budget year, on pace to reach $500 million in revenue growth over the prior year when the fiscal year ends on June 30.
Using props that included three placards and a Bible, Justice used the revenue figures as ammunition against critics who call him a part-time governor and criticize him for refusing to live in the Governor's Mansion.
"Do you want me to sit in the mansion and get gold stars for sitting there?" he asked, adding, "Do you really want to be occupied with where I sleep at night?"
Justice apparently was referring to a petition Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, has filed in Kanawha Circuit Court to compel Justice to comply with the state constitution's requirement that the governor and other elected officials in the executive branch reside at the seat of government.
Lawyers for Justice want the petition dismissed, contending that the definition of residency is nebulous and that the court does not have authority to enforce any residency requirement.
"If you think I'm going to apologize to you or I'm even going to comment on, 'Well, governor, why aren't you at the mansion more?' I'm everywhere more," Justice said Wednesday.
Justice has held news conferences to tout strong monthly revenue reports before - although the Senate this month stole his thunder when Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, released the May revenue report on June 3, a move that Justice criticized as "just petty stuff."
The release of the May revenue figures appears to be part of a feud between Justice and Senate leadership, fueled in part by Justice's criticism of the Senate's omnibus bill, and of Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson.
Instead of the usual summary of the monthly revenue report, Wednesday's news conference was more of an overview of improvement in state tax collection, with analysis from the National Association of State Budget Officers finding that West Virginia is one of five states to experience double-digit revenue growth to date in the 2018-19 budget year.