Justice proposes state budget cuts

Governor Jim Justice delivered a plan Wednesday to improve the current state of West Virginia’s economy in his first State of the State address as the 36th governor of West Virginia. 

The plan he presented includes investments in infrastructure, tax increases and budget cuts. It is these tax increases and budget cuts that have legislators and citizens talking the most.

In his plan, Justice, a democrat, proposed nearly $30 million in state budget cuts. These cuts will affect the Regional Education Service Agencies, the West Virginia Network, College Readiness Program, Division of Labor, Vehicle Purchase Reduction, Educational Broadcasting Authority, Division of Culture and History, and the West Virginia Film Office, along with a 4.4 percent cut to the state’s two largest public universities — West Virginia University and Marshall University.

For Marshall specifically, this will amount to about $2.8 million in state funding cuts. George Davis, associate professor and department chair of Marshall’s political science department, anticipates that these cuts could lead to possible hiring freezes and potential tuition increases for university students.

“Marshall has seen cuts for the last five years,” Davis said. “I think we have cut just about all we can cut.”

In fact, a fall 2016 article published in The Parthenon states that Marshall’s budget has been cut by about 16 percent since 2013, with Marshall’s President Jerry Gilbert announcing a 2 percent cut just last December.

While Marshall University has not yet officially commented on the proposed cuts, West Virginia Public Broadcasting, a state agency that receives about half its revenues from the state, released a statement condemning Justice’s plans to cut funding completely.

“We believe this would be unwise and irresponsible,” wrote Susan C. Hogan, chair of the Friends of WVPB, and Ted Armbrect, chair of the WVPBFoundation. “We understand the state needs to save money, but such a drastic and immediate cut threatens the very existence of our state’s PBS and NPR stations”

In the statement, Hogan and Armbrest outlined the effects such cuts would have on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. The agency’s ability to provide PBS Kids programming to low-income children would be affected, as well as online resources for more than 6,000 educators and homeschoolers. Among other services, the budget cuts would also eliminate funding to WVPB’s Mountain Stage, a concert series that led to more than $1 million in direct economic impact in 2016, according to the official statement.

“What does the Governor’s proposed elimination of all funding for Mountain Stage save? $300,000,” Hogan and Armbrect said.

Along with the budget cuts, Justice proposed several tax raises, including a “half-a-penny” raise in the state’s sales tax and a 0.2 percent raise on business revenue.

“What would you rather do,” Justice questioned.  “Would you rather have your school plummeted even more? Your seniors just forgotten? Your vets forgotten?  Your parks closed? Fairmont State shut down? On and on and on. Or would you be willing as a people to say: I’m willing to pay a half penny more. And I’m willing as a business to step up and pay two-tenths of one percent. Because I love West Virginia. And we’re going somewhere.”

Justice stated that his increases, specifically his 10-cent increase on gas and increase in Division of Motor Vehicles fees, will eventually lead to $2.8 billion for the state, and that his goal as governor is to eventually eliminate West Virginia’s income tax.

Franklin Norton can be contacted at [email protected]