Joe Manchin, West Virginia Governor Exchange Fire Over Stimulus

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice sternly criticized Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), appearing to blame him for a provision in the COVID-19 stimulus bill that may make it difficult for Justice to deliver promised tax cuts.

Justice, a Republican, accused Manchin of not caring about the people of West Virginia in his virtual COVID-19 briefing on Monday, and of "selling" his influence in Congress.

He took strong exception to a clause in the American Rescue Plan that does not allow relief funding to states to be used to offset losses from tax cuts. Manchin decried Justice's "personal attacks."

"This is terrible, this is absolutely terrible," Justice said in his latest briefing on Monday.

"What was written into the law was written in there primarily by Joe Manchin. Joe Manchin is supposed to be your representative, West Virginia. And you know what Joe Manchin is doing? He's still trying to hit at me. That's all there really is to it.

"When it really boils right down to it that's all Joe Manchin is doing. He doesn't care about you. He doesn't care about the people of this state. Literally, Joe Manchin is selling his influence and making money.

"I mean, you think about this. Joe Manchin has been a politician forever yet he's a rich man. How could that be? How could that possibly be? Absolutely, he makes money selling his influence."

Justice added: "When it really boils right down to it, what he's doing is hurting West Virginians."

Justice offered no evidence for his claim about Manchin selling influence, however. It's also not clear what role if any Manchin had in the stimulus bill provision that Justice objects to.

Manchin voted in favor of the bill as a whole after changes were made to unemployment insurance. No Senate Republicans chose to support the stimulus package.

"Instead of political attacks that do nothing to help hard-working West Virginians, I welcome the opportunity to speak with Governor Justice about the best possible ways to improve the lives of West Virginians with the more than $2 billion in federal funding that I secured for our state in this bill," Manchin said in a statement on Monday, WDTV reported.

"Policy differences do not justify personal attacks; I want to work with Governor Justice in the best interest of our state."

The $1.9 trillion stimulus package contains $350 billion in aid for state, county, and municipal governments which can be used to supplement losses in tax revenue due to COVID-19.

However, the bill does not allow the funds to be used for state pension plans or to offset losses from tax cuts.

Justice wants to eliminate personal income tax in West Virginia, possibly over the next three years, beginning with a 60 percent cut from January 2022 and tax rebates for families earning less than $35,000 per year for a total tax reduction of $1.087 billion, according to The Intelligencer.

His plan would make up for lost revenue by introducing $902.6 million in tax increases elsewhere, including consumer sale and use tax, taxes on certain luxury goods, and increases in tax on cigarettes and alcohol. This will still leave the state with a $90 million shortfall.

Manchin has previously accused Justice of being too slow to spend relief money from the CARES Act in the hope that restrictions would be eased allowing the funds to be spent on any potential budget gap.

"It ends up to be a political slush fund, which is exactly what's happening in West Virginia right now. He's playing games with this thing, and it can't be," Manchin said on July 29 last year.

West Virginia still has $660 million of the $1.25 billion CARES Act funding it received, though Justice said $400 million of that is already earmarked.

It will be used to pay off a $157 million interest-free loan from the Department of Labor borrowed to keep the state's unemployment trust fund solvent, while the remainder of the $400 million will be used to top up the fund.

Justice has said he does not intend to use stimulus money to fund tax cuts, according to Metro News.

"My additional rainy day bucket has nothing—and still has nothing in the world—to do with taking CARES money and putting it over here in a rainy day bucket that is for tax relief," he said on Monday. "Nothing whatsoever."

Justice was reelected in 2020 and has only recently unveiled his plan for phasing out personal income tax. He's also criticized other GOP governors for their recent approach to the pandemic.

West Virginia's Governor Criticized Joe Manchin
Chairman Joe Manchin, (D-WV), looks on as Congresswoman Deb Haaland, D-NM, speaks during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior Secretary on Capitol Hill on February 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. Manchin has clashed with West Virginia Governor Jim Justice over the COVID-19 stimulus package. Jim Watson-Poo/Getty Images