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‘Devastating:’ Member of Justice Cabinet discusses West Virginia’s financial situation

JESS MANCINI

The Parkersburg News and Sentinel

PARKERSBURG, W.Va.  — How bad would it be if the West Virginia Legislature doesn’t go with the governor’s plan to raise revenue?

Worse than bad, according to Department of Veterans Assistance Secretary Dennis E. Davis.

“Let me start by saying, devastating,” Davis said.

From left, G. Allen Wood, Wood County Veterans Assistance officer, meets with Secretary Dennis E. Davis of the Department of Veterans Assistance and Randy Coleman, communications director for the agency, on Thursday at the field office in Parkersburg. Davis was in town to talk about the dire financial situation in West Virginia that affects veterans programs and services in the wake of substantial spending reductions.
(Photo by Jeff Baughan)

Davis was in Parkersburg on Thursday, part of the Save Our State tour by secretaries and by Gov. Jim Justice.

West Virginia is facing a budget shortfall of about a half-billion dollars next fiscal year. Justice on Thursday issued a statement saying he wants legislative authority to lay off employees by executive order.

Justice, who campaigned on a promise of not raising taxes, reversed himself upon taking office and said the dire financial situation required more tax revenue in his State of the State speech. He has proposed creating in the next budget a $105 million “Save Our State Fund” intended for investment for economic development and infrastructure.

The governor kicked off the Save Our State tour on Sunday in Raleigh County at the site of the Coalfields Expressway road project. Justice said the increases will create jobs and improve infrastructure.

Justice later called legislators against his plan “knuckleheads.”

While funding for veterans assistance remains intact in the budget proposal to the Legislature from the governor, an alternative budget for fiscal 2018 as proposed by the governor cuts $450 million in spending, resulting in 3,000 jobs lost. About $10.3 million in state funds generates about $1.4 billion in federal dollars into West Virginia, Davis said.

“That’s how dire the budget situation is this state,” Davis said.

Veterans assistance would be cut in total in the alternative budget, as will more than 40 other agencies and institutions.

The result is the field offices in the state, of which there are 17 including in Parkersburg, will be affected, possibly closed, Davis said. Subsequently, so will the services provided at the field offices, the nursing home in Clarksburg, the veterans cemetery in Institute and the veterans homeless shelter in Barboursville, he said.

“Each and all these facilities will be impacted tremendously,” Davis said.

The Parkersburg office aids around two dozen veterans each day, including walk-ins and over the telephone, according to G. Allen Wood, veterans service officer in Wood County. The number generally is higher at the end of the month, he said.

Another cabinet secretary, Secretary Bill J. Crouch of the Department of Health and Human Resources, will be in Parkersburg 1:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Wood County Senior Citizens Association, 914 Market St., also for the Save Our State tour.

Crouch will discuss potential cuts to the Aged and Disabled Waiver Program. E. Mark Knabenshue, executive director of the Wood County Senior Citizens Association; Helen Eaton, a waiver recipient from Wood County, and clients served by the waiver program will join Crouch.

More than 6,000 senior West Virginians receive services through the AD Waiver Program, the department said. Aged and Disabled Waiver services enable recipients to remain at home or return home from a nursing home.

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