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Budget issues, education focus of W.Va. legislative preview

AARP WV hosts legislative preview

By Lexi Browning

For the West Virginia Press Association

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Budget issues led the discussion Tuesday when members of AARP’s Capitol Advocacy Team met with members of the media to discuss the upcoming legislative session’s potential economic impact on West Virginia and residents across the state.

Panelists Ashton Marra, right, statehouse reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, and Jeff Jenkins, chief capitol correspondent for MetroNews, outline their expectations for the session. WVPA Photo/Dalton Walker

Panelists Ashton Marra, statehouse reporter for West Virginia Public Broadcasting, Jeff Jenkins, chief capitol correspondent for MetroNews, and Don Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Press Association, outlined their expectations for the session. AARP Associate State Director Tom Hunter moderated the discussion, which was part of a day of meetings with legislators.

Jenkins said he expected the budget shortfall to dominate Gov. Jim Justice’s State of the State address this week. Based on his recent conversations with legislators, Jenkins said potential remedies being considered for the budget deficit include tax increases and departmental cuts.

“Not only are they balancing the new year’s fiscal budget of $500 million, but also (dealing with) the $130 million in the current budget, so there’s going to be some big decisions with cuts that hurt,” Jenkins said.

While legislators are waiting to hear the Governor’s plan, Smith said legislative leaders have mentioned possible sales tax increases and eliminating the sales tax exemptions to aide in balancing the state’s budget.

Members of the AARP WV Capitol Advocacy Team list to members of the W.Va. media discuss the upcoming legislative session. WVPA Photo/Dalton Walker

In his inaugural address, Gov. Justice said he would consider any course of action in achieving a balanced budget and that West Virginians could expect an elimination of “unnecessary agencies” in the education department.

Along with budget issues, education took precedence at Tuesday’s discussion, with Hunter noting a majority of AARP members in the audience were retired educators.

Marra said she anticipated cuts throughout all state agencies, particularly the education sector, which could have immediate impacts on teachers’ salaries, textbook purchases and school supplies.

“We’ve seen those cuts in the past with the public education system, but those cuts have been centralized in the state department of education here in Charleston,” Marra said. “If you speak to the superintendent, however, he says we’re at the point where he can’t supply the services the schools rely on and that the schools need … You’ve got dozens of school systems on the brink of being in the red, and the Department of Education tracks that on a monthly basis. There are counties like Raleigh and Boone who have announced that they’re laying off teachers. I don’t think the legislature has the political will to cut further, but where else will that money come from?”

Further cuts to higher education could result in overwhelming student debt or a student’s inability to attend college at all, Marra said.

Angela Vance, AARP West Virginia associate director for advocacy, said the state AARP chapter would again place an emphasis on assisting caregivers and continuing to fight financial exploitation of the state’s elderly population during this year’s session.

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