By AUSTIN WEIFORD
The Exponent Telegram
CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — The Protect West Virginia coalition held a conference in Charleston Wednesday to highlight the effects of state budget cuts on state residents.
Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, noted that polling data show nearly half of all West Virginians think the state’s budget crisis stems from giving too many tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.
Protect West Virginia was formed by citizens and organizations, and is coordinated by the Center on Budget and Policy to help connect the state’s values to the state’s budget priorities, Boettner said.
“It is clear from polling data that most West Virginians do not want to see more harmful budget cuts, and that they are even willing to raise their own taxes to avoid more cuts that put our communities at risk and drive more people out of our state,” Boettner said.
“While legislative leadership and the governor-elect have been unwilling to specify how they plan to address the state’s projected $400 million budget shortfall,” Boettner said, “it is clear most West Virginians do not want to cut education, close state parks, eliminate the PROMISE scholarship or increase tuition at our colleges and universities.
“Polling data show that nearly half of all West Virginians think our budget crisis stems from giving too many tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy.”
Caitlin Cook, the Center on Budget and Policy’s communications director, discussed the purpose of Protect West Virginia.
“West Virginians have faced enough cuts year after year,” Cook said. “We believe in holding lawmakers accountable for real budget solutions that realize West Virginia values — the values that make our state great.”
Cook introduced Lauren Groseclose, a sixth-grade teacher at Stonewall Jackson Middle School in Kanawha County, who discussed how budget cuts have affected her school.
“Personally, my school is losing a vice principal and three teachers,” Groseclose said. “If we don’t invest in our children and our students, they aren’t going to stick around in the future.
“I want people to know that our students desperately need the resources they’re about to lose. The principal we’re losing is an amazing woman who started many different programs in our school. Class sizes are going to increase with three teachers leaving. We need a better solution.”
Sarah Starks, a recent graduate of West Virginia State University, talked about being able to afford higher education with help from the PROMISE scholarship.
Starks said one of the biggest advantages of going to college in-state is helping to build an educated and professional workforce, which is necessary to attract business and create jobs.
“Businesses don’t want to invest in a state that doesn’t have a skilled workforce,” Starks said. “And right now, because of cuts to higher education, tuitions rates are out of control. Not only are we paying more for an education, but in many cases we’re paying for less, because the cuts have also caused fewer full-time positions within the schools.”
Alexandra Gallo said he moved to West Virginia because of its natural beauty and mountains.
“The mountains have become a place of solace for me, where I feel free and secure,” Gallo said. “But cuts to things like campgrounds, picnic areas, and visitor centers eliminate jobs and further contribute to the crisis we’re in today. We are asking the Legislature to listen to the people of West Virginia. We have great ideas to put West Virginia’s people and land first.”