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'No End In Sight.' West Virginia Democrats Say Governor Is Overreaching

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Updated at 9:15 p.m. ET Friday

This story is part of an NPR nationwide analysis of states' revenue and budgets during the pandemic.

Just before the turn of West Virginia's fiscal year on July 1, Republican Gov. Jim Justice announced he was making creative use of some of the state's $1.25 billion from the federal CARES Act — as well as $150 million from the state's Medicaid surplus fund.

Justice said the CARES Act money, meant for states to cover coronavirus-related expenses, would go, in part, straight to some state agencies and programs.

That decision, backed by a legal opinion that the governor's office sought from outside counsel, helped the state overcome a $255 million deficit in the 2020 fiscal year.

Justice said Monday that the state closed the year $28 million in the black, which he said helps translate to a $243.9 million cash surplus at the end of July.

But some state lawmakers have taken issue with what they say is an overreach of executive powers. Minority Democrats in the West Virginia House of Delegates are working with Republicans to come back to the capital for a special session and rein in Justice's plan.

"We're four months into this thing, with no end in sight," Mick Bates, the minority chair of the House Finance Committee, said of Justice's unilateral power, propped up by the ongoing state of emergency.

While lawmakers in the House have secured the three-fifths majority needed to call themselves into a special session, top Republicans who hold the majority in the Senate oppose the idea.

Dave Mistich is a senior reporter at West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

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