Four years ago in West Virginia, two years ago in Ohio and last year in Kentucky, how many people who cast votes for governor had “how they respond to a disease outbreak” on their list of criteria of who to vote for?
The novel cornavirus has been the driving force of government this year at all levels. Government buildings have been closed off to the public for periods of time, or access has been restricted. Schools have closed, and their ability to reopen and remain open for the entire school year is in question. Taxes have been postponed or waived.
Governors are the top of the state government. They don’t have absolute power, but some of them have been more eager to issue executive orders than others. Those orders can determine when bars can open, or they can determine whether people must wear masks to buy groceries.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear have been more active in issuing such orders than has West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice. DeWine has the Columbus, Cleveland and Cincinnati metro areas to deal with. Beshear has Lexington and Louisville. The virus has been most active in heavily populated areas — the kind West Virginia does not have.
Justice has done an acceptable job during the pandemic so far. He’s had to balance constituencies that want everything shut down and for everyone to wear masks against those who want an open economy where mask-wearing is optional. The fact he’s running for reelection couldn’t have made those decisions easier.
There is one decision, however, where Justice made the wrong choice. That is his refusal to call a special session of the Legislature to determine how to spend $1.25 billion in money appropriated by Congress for virus relief measures.
Most members of the House of Delegates want a special session so the Legislature can appropriate the money. That’s how the system normally works. It’s what the state constitution requires. The governor proposes how the state allocates the money it collects in taxes, but the final decision results from compromise between the governor and legislators.
Justice’s original plan to take $100 million of federal relief money and use it for road projects was the result of questionable judgment. It shows why the Legislature’s input is necessary.
But Justice and Senate President Mitch McConnell oppose having a special session. They don’t want politics getting involved in how that $1.25 billion is spent. Imagine — Jim Justice is the only person at the Capitol who is above politics and can be trusted to disburse $1.25 billion among the agencies and institutions that have been adversely by the virus.
A special session needn’t be long, as decisions are normally made beforehand and refined during the legislative process. Agencies should know by now how much money they will need to continue their missions into the fiscal year that has just begun.
Voters didn’t put Justice into office to be a one-man show for an entire year. Emergency powers are for emergencies. As the pandemic has worn on, it has become time for the Legislature to reassert its power of the purse. It’s why legislators were elected. That and to decide which of Justice’s executive orders should be ratified by the public officials closer to voters and specific regions that have been affected by the virus in different ways.
It’s time for a special session. No, it’s past time.