Justice wants money for storm victims but leading lawmakers say he already has it

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice said he could be helping victims of last week’s storms had the legislature agreed with his $50 million allocation in his proposed state budget for disaster assistance.

Gov. Jim Justice

Justice said during his Wednesday media briefing the money could have helped victims like those of last week’s tornado in the Fayette County community of Lavista.

“That 50-million dollars would have been sending dollars and be able to help that man today, today, but we cut it out of the budget,” Justice said.

Justice said the fund could get assistance to victims more quickly while the state is waiting on a federal disaster declaration or if the state is turned down for federal funds.

Justice criticized state Senate Finance Committee Eric Tarr for his idea not making the new state budget.

“The finance chair with more knowledge than all of us put together said, ‘we don’t need that,’ but here we’ve got a lot, a lot of surplus dollars,” Justice said.

Tarr shot back after hearing Justice’s comments. He told MetroNews Justice “is either dumb or playing dumb.”

Eric Tarr

“If the governor really wanted to help with anybody suffering from flood damages he could certainly do that,” Tarr said. “He either doesn’t understand how to do it or he’s looking for an excuse not to.”

Tarr said Justice could use his civil contingency fund that has a balance of $85 million to help storm victims.

“The civil contingency fund is set up to use at the governor’s discretion for emergency purposes and rather than use that fund for emergency purposes he’s been going around doling out billboard-size checks for photo opportunities for his campaign,” Tarr said.

House of Delegates Speaker Roger Hanshaw also referred to the civil contingency fund in a statement released by his office after the governor’s comments.

House Speaker Roger Hanshaw

“Neither the Fiscal Year 2025 budget the governor presented to the Legislature in January, nor the Fiscal Year 2025 budget the Legislature passed in March, would have any bearing on the state’s ability to aid with this disaster right now,” Hanshaw said. “The governor’s Civil Contingent Fund currently contains $85 million, and those funds are at his disposal for emergencies such as this. The governor is granted even more flexibility in directing funds during a State of Emergency. If the governor wishes to respond to this tragedy in any way, he has the full capacity to do so, unfettered by the Legislature.”

Special Session Call

Justice said Wednesday that he plans to put the $50 million disaster fund back before lawmakers soon. He said it would be part of his call for a planned late-May special session.

“When I call them back it will be back on the call,” Justice said. “And absolutely with our surplus dollars we ought to create the bucket and then we’re going to have to replenish the bucket as we go forward.”

He called it frivolous not to have a “bucket” of state funds to use on disasters.

Justice went on to say that some lawmakers want to keep the budget surpluses large until he leaves office and then spend the money for their pet projects.

“Jim Justice doesn’t do pet projects,” Justice said.

Tarr, who said he’s honored that the governor thinks he has that kind of influence, said members of the legislature have been the “adults in the room” when it comes to state spending.

“It’s a matter of using the taxpayers dollars appropriately,” Tarr said.

Given Justice’s comments, Tarr said he feels bad for the victims of last week’s storms.

“The governor should have probably thought before he spoke and mostly he should have considered the people he was speaking about before he did,” Tarr said.

FEMA application

Justice said the state will make application with FEMA for federal disaster assistance. He said the flooding along the Ohio River would be combined with the storm damage as part of one submission in hopes of getting the damage numbers that FEMA requires.

“The most devastating about the whole thing is it’s going to be difficult in getting FEMA across the finish line,” Justice said. “I’m not going to be your governor forever but it is frivolous, frivolous for us not to create a bucket to where we can help folks where they have a situation whether it be a mudslide, a flooding event or God forbid another tornado event.

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