By June 21, 2017 Read More →

Proposed WV budget includes deep cuts to education, arts, tourism

By PHIL KABLER

Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In addition to cuts to higher education, public education and Medicaid, other West Virginia cultural, educational and tourism programs would take it on the chin under the version of the 2017-18 budget bill passed by the Legislature Friday night, an analysis of the budget proposal shows.

Culture and History, Education and the Arts, the Library Commission and the Educational Broadcasting Authority would see significant budget cuts under the Legislature’s proposed budget (Senate Bill 1013).

Gov. Jim Justice received the bill Monday afternoon, and had not acted on it by Tuesday evening, although he issued a news release in the afternoon regarding “a major budget announcement” at the Capitol this morning.

The Governor’s Office would not provide further details on the nature of the announcement Tuesday evening.

Justice has until Saturday at midnight to sign the budget bill into law, sign it with line-item vetoes, allow it to become law without his signature or veto it — with the latter almost certainly setting up a partial state government shutdown on July 1.

Among cuts in the Legislature’s version of the budget bill, Culture and History would be hit hard, with its personal services line-item — for payroll and benefits — cut about 12 percent, from $3.58 million in Justice’s $4.349 billion budget plan to $3.15 million in the $4.225 billion budget passed by the Legislature.

Lottery funding for various Culture and History program grants would be cut by nearly $1 million, or about 20 percent, in the Legislature’s budget.

Historic-preservation grants would be cut $73,686, to $294,742, while Preservation West Virginia would lose $95,598, cut to $491,921 — cuts that would come on top of the Legislature’s failure to expand tax credits for restoration of historic buildings. That proposal died when the House and Senate could not reach a compromise on a state revenue plan.

Funding for fairs and festivals around the state would be cut $321,483, to $1.35 million, while separate funding for the State Fair of West Virginia, the Mountain State Forest Festival and the Contemporary American Theater Festival also would receive cuts of about 20 percent.

Funding for various competitive arts grants would be cut by $146,000, to $580,000.

Likewise, funding for a number of theaters and symphonies around the state would be cut by 20 percent, including the West Virginia Public Theater; Greenbrier Valley Theatre; Theater Arts of West Virginia; and the West Virginia, Wheeling and Huntington symphonies.

Education and the Arts would see the largest percentage cut in its personal services line-item, a 34 percent reduction, from $781,264 in Justice’s budget plan to $514,428 in the budget passed by the Legislature.

During the regular session, the House passed a bill to eliminate the office of Secretary of Education and the Arts and move its agencies to other departments, but the bill was never taken up in the Senate.

The state Constitution prohibits using the budget to make major statutory changes without the accompanying legislation, so there could be legal issues with that funding cut, based on the Supreme Court decision in Dadisman v. Moore.

Similar questions could arise with the Legislature zeroing out funding for the state Women’s Commission in its budget bill — despite Justice’s veto of a regular session bill to eliminate the commission.

Justice’s budget proposal provides $155,489 for the Women’s Commission — approximately one-fourth of the cost of legislative pay and expenses to-date for the now 20-day special session on the budget.

The Educational Broadcasting Authority, which was used as a political football for much of the regular session — Justice initially zeroed out its funding, then fully restored the $4.56 million in state money, saying he had placed Public Broadcasting on the chopping block to “start a dialogue with the Legislature on budget issues” — would be cut $941,294, to $3.62 million, in the budget passed by the Legislature.

That amounts to a 22 percent cut in Public Broadcasting’s personal services line-item, which would drop from $4.18 million in Justice’s budget to $3.24 million in the Legislature’s budget bill.

The Library Commission also would have its personal services line-item cut about $80,000, or 6 percent, in the legislative budget, to $1.2 million.

Finally, the Division of Tourism would see its 2017-18 advertising budget cut by $5 million, from $7.42 million in Justice’s budget bill to $2.42 million in the legislative budget.

That’s despite arguments by Justice that the state should emulate Michigan, which saw tourism skyrocket after significantly increasing its tourism advertising budget to launch the “Pure Michigan” campaign.

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