Protect West Virginia members oppose House, Senate budget cuts

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Standing in front of the West Virginia Capitol, a grassroots advocacy group criticized budget proposals put forth by the House and Senate, saying cuts to programs could be devastating to the state’s future.

Members of Protect West Virginia Wednesday discussed proposed cuts and what they think may be better options.

Stephen Smith, from the Our Children Our Future campaign, said some of his big worries are cuts to education, health care and senior services.

“We are all united as voters to say to this Legislature that we do not accept these budget proposals,” Smith said. “We will not accept a budget that mortgages our future and hands it off to a future generation.”

He said the state has already cut $600 million to balance the budget and more cuts will not work without revenue options.

“Behind every number is a West Virginia family or program that would not exist if Republican leadership gets its way,” he said.

Some of the revenue measures Protect West Virginia recommended included reinstating the business tax cuts, enacted in 2006 and 2007 of more than $425 million, applying a 6 percent sales tax to cell phones and other ancillary telecommunications, a 3 percent high-income surcharge on incomes more than $200,000, a 1 penny per ounce tax on sugary beverages and increasing the tobacco taxes to $1.55 per pack.

It also recommends reinstating the estate tax, raising natural gas severance tax, reinstating the grocery tax and raising the sales tax from 6 percent to 6.5 percent or 7 percent.

Amanda Shelton, a sixth grade math teacher in Clay County said if there are more cuts to public education, she worries about what will happen in her home county.

“The cuts of $79 million projected budget cuts impact our county system and students in a devastating manner,” she said. “We are operating right now at a basic level — no extra anything.”

She said she hopes there will not be more cuts to education, saying the state should instead look at investing in education. She said funding higher education and K-12 would help attract businesses to West Virginia, because businesses look for an educated workforce.

“When you don’t properly fund education, you’re not looking at the future,” she said. “I don’t think the state is looking at the long term.”

Garrett Burgess, a student at West Virginia University, is also concerned about cuts to higher education, saying he is a product of the West Virginia education system.

He said he chose West Virginia University because of the quality of education and affordability even though he had briefly considered going out of state. He said higher education has sustained many cuts the last few years and those cuts have consequences such as increased tuition and decreased financial assistance.

“It’s making it harder for the younger generation to start their lives in West Virginia,” Burgess said.

He said he hopes West Virginia will choose to invest in higher education in the future instead of making more cuts.

“We need to keep our promises to the youth of West Virginia who look for a better future,” Burgess said. “If we invest in our youth, they will return your cost 10 fold.”

Jennifer Wells, with West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, said the cuts to DHHR is devastating. She works with at-risk youth who rely on Medicaid, from which she said the House budget cuts about $10 million. She said she also works with seniors who rely on medical care to get basic services.

“When you see some of them face a decision whether to pay for medicine or get food, you understand how real the problem is,” she said. “Even at this moment, Medicaid is not truly supporting them. Some of the seniors I’ve worked with have banded together and made a pact that if one of them passes, they will allow the others who use the same medicine to share prescriptions because they can’t afford it at that time. A $10 million cut? What’s that saying? That’s a death sentence.”

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