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W.Va. keeps operating under new state budget

By JOSELYN KING

The Intelligencer of Wheeling

WHEELING, W.Va. — State government in West Virginia didn’t shut down Saturday, but West Virginia leaders are at best ambivalent about the 2018 fiscal year fiscal budget passed in mid-June that keeps the state operating for the next year.

The budget in place sets forth a plan for $4.225 billion in spending for West Virginia, equal to projected revenue. It uses no money from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, nor does it provide any funding for Gov. Jim Justice’s proposed “Save Our State Program.”

There are no cuts to veterans’ programs, nor does the budget contain a 2-percent raise for teachers.

Higher education was cut, but money for the state-funded PROMISE scholarships and secondary education was maintained.

“The positive news in the short term was that general taxes were not raised,” said Delegate Patrick McGeehan, R-Hancock. “Most of the proposals raised taxes, and it seemed that was the go-to plan in Charleston. The smallest proposal would have required a taxpayer to pay an additional $200 each year, and the others could have meant thousands more. That was unacceptable to me.”

McGeehan, however, does not believe the budget is based on sound numbers.

“The projections used to predict the budget are inaccurate,” he said. “I don’t believe the state will bring in as much as the governor’s office said it would. And since serious cuts in spending were not made, we’re going to have the same problems next year.”

While McGeehan voted in favor of the budget, Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, did not.

“It’s hard to argue there are any ‘good aspects’ (to the budget) other than we avoided a government shutdown and we didn’t increase the sales tax — as proposed by Senate leadership, which would have harmed the Northern Panhandle,” Fluharty said.

“The worst aspects of the budget are clearly the cuts to higher education, which we are seeing a direct response to this week with universities like WVU and Marshall increasing their tuition as a result of the cuts. The budget simply represented more of the same failed policies that put us in this position and lacks any vision for the future. That’s why I voted against it.”

Education Funding

The new budget earmarks $381,194,478 to higher education providers across West Virginia — $19 million less than in 2017, according to information provided by the House Clerk’s Office.

All four-year colleges and universities have had their funding cut by at least 4.6 percent, as did two-year technical and community colleges. The largest schools, West Virginia University and Marshall University, each received a 6.74-percent reduction.

At WVU, state funding dropped from $184.4 million last year to $175.3 million this year — a difference of $9.1 million. The Legislature has reduced state support to WVU by more than $38 million in the last four years.

WVU’s operating budget for next year is $1.07 billion; and at Marshall, $119.3 million.

Marshall reports a loss of $4.2 million in state funding for the new school year, and $14.5 million over the last five years.

This week Marshall announced it would be raising tuition by 9 percent; and WVU, by 5 percent.

Delegate Michael Folk, R-Berkeley, takes issue with the amount of the tuition increases, and says it’s unfair to blame the Legislature for higher education cuts. He also has criticized the governor and West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee for “distorting the truth” about WVU’s recently announced 5-percent tuition increase.

Folk said the revenue WVU will generate from the 5-percent tuition increase will far exceed what the school lost in state appropriations. According to the university’s five-year financial plan, a 5-percent increase was projected to increase revenue by nearly $23 million over the next fiscal year.

“WVU is raising tuition almost $3 for every $1 of reduced state funding, yet President Gee wants you to believe these tuition hikes are all the Legislature’s fault,” Folk said. “I think Gordon Gee has joined the governor in the big lie.”

The new budget maintains funding for the PROMISE Scholarship and other West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission grant programs at $62 million for 2018.

The allocation for public education also will be maintained at $1,937,791,936. School Aid Formula and School Building Authority construction grants will be continued.

Medicaid, Corrections And Roads

The approved budget assures West Virginia’s three-to-one state match for federal Medicaid money is fully funded for 2018.

Funding for all services within the State Department of Health and Human Resources has been set $1,138,498,968.

Included within the allocation is full funding for local public health departments and free clinics such as Wheeling Health Right. Also maintained is funding for social services, foster care and the state match portion of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

Funding for substance abuse treatment was increased by $22 million through the establishment of the Ryan Brown Addiction Prevention and Recovery Fund.

The State Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, meanwhile, was given a budget of $361,588,512 for this year.

The Department of Corrections was funded at recommended levels, and the State Police retirement contribution was increased by $7.8 million.

Funding for juvenile services was maintained at the 2017 level, while money earmarked for the State Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management was increased by $450,000 to maintain and improve the state’s emergency radio communication network.

The State Road Fund receives $1,314,293,957 in the budget, and the Department of Transportation was given spending authority to enact Justice’s proposed road building initiative.

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