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Eastern Panhandle lawmaker reacts to Legislature blame

By DANYEL VANREENEN

The Journal

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Reacting to claims from both West Virginia University and Gov. Jim Justice that the legislators in Charleston were solely to blame for the five percent tuition hike at West Virginia University approved for the 2018 fiscal year, an Eastern Panhandle state delegate said other factors were also at play.

According to a WVU press release, the university board of governors approved a $1.07 billion budget for FY2018, which included an average five percent tuition increase. Justice claimed, “Elected legislators are squarely responsible for (the tuition hike) and the carnage that’s going to be felt in many other areas in the days and weeks to come.”

However, Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, said Justice’s proposed budget cut funding to WVU and higher education institutes as well.

Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley

Folk said Justice’s original FY2018 budget proposed a 4.4 percent cut to WVU and Marshall University, and the bill Justice introduced during the special session called for further reductions to WVU. Folk said Justice proposed reducing WVU state funding to $103,242,044 during the special session, and the legislature eventually agreed to grant WVU $102,931,727 for the 2018 fiscal year.

“The difference between the WVU budget the governor introduced in special session and the one passed by the Legislature was just $310,317 – yet (Justice) insists on blaming the Legislature for the cut in funding,” Folk said. “It is a bald-faced lie by the Governor to say it is all the Legislature’s fault when each of his proposals cut at minimum almost $5 million.”

A WVU release said the board of governors “was able to keep to its previous plan for tuition increases” despite a 6.6 percent or $8.7 million reduction in state support. Although Justice placed the blame on the legislator’s budget, Folk said WVU had already planned to increase tuition before a state budget was approved.

Additionally, Folk said the tuition increase will generate more revenue than it is losing through state funding. According to WVU’s five-year financial plan, Folk said the tuition increase is expected to generate nearly $23 million in revenue during the 2018 fiscal year.

“WVU is raising tuition almost $3 for every $1 of reduced state funding, yet (WVU President Gordon) Gee wants you to believe these tuition hikes are all the Legislature’s fault,” Folk said.

Despite the decrease in state funding and the hike in tuition, Gee said WVU is committed to keeping tuition as affordable as possible.

“Accordingly, we will absorb the reductions in other areas of the university in order to maintain the same tuition plan under which we have been operating,”Gee said in a press release. In the same release, Gee said the state Legislators raised taxes on every parent and student at this institution. “We are raising taxes on individuals who can least afford it.”

Justice said the cuts will prevent many West Virginians from attending college, and he said the state will always be last in the nation if it doesn’t invest in its future.

“I’ve tried since February to impress upon the citizens of our state and the state Legislature that massive cuts to higher education institutions were just going to hurt our young people and their ability to get a degree,” Justice said. “I had a plan to make sure this wouldn’t happen, but the Legislature dissed me. The hurting has started and it is going to get worse as we move into a new fiscal year.”

Folk believes WVU will be able to absorb the state funding cuts, however. Folk said based on the salaries and auditor reports from WVU departments, money can be relocated to cover the costs of state cuts.

Folk called the WVU Department of Government Relations “a tax-payer funded lobby group.” Folk said Rob Alsop, WVU Government Relations vice president for legal, government and entrepreneurial engagement, made $288,701 in 2016. Folk said the information from West Virginia State Auditor’s Office also shows WVU spending a little over $1.2 million in the last fiscal year on a private chartered jet company based in Pennsylvania. According to Folk, the jet was charted to transport Gee to and from Charleston for appearances at legislative meetings.

Ultimately, Folk said the legislature is not entirely to blame for tuition increases at WVU — he said the numbers would speak for themselves.

“One simply has to look at the budget bills introduced to realize the facts tell a different story,” Folk said.

WVU said resident tuition will increase $384 an academic year, from $7,992 to $8,376, and non-resident tuition will increase $1,128 from $22,488 to $23,616.

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