Battle of the Budget
Legislative forum provides ideas with budget cuts creeping close
Published: Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, November 5, 2013 23:11
Funding cuts to higher education generated a night of discussion Tuesday with students, legislators and Marshall faculty and administration in attendance.
House delegates Kevin Craig, Don Perdue, Kelli Sobonya, Jim Morgan, Carol Miller and Huntington Mayor Steve Williams answered questions and expressed ideas and concerns regarding West Virginia’s financial future. Senator Bob Plymale was also in attendance.
Beth Vorhees of West Virginia Public Broadcasting served as moderator of the discussion, which began with an introduction of panel members and quickly moved to direct discussion of the state’s financial situation and the impact on higher education.
Craig said state revenue streams are decreasing, which makes it hard to find money for items like higher education. With so many issues needing more funding, Sabonya said increasing revenue is necessary.
A question was raised regarding the impact of funding cuts on financial aid, to which legislators said the PROMISE Scholarship, in particular, will likely be unaffected as it is special revenue based rather than general revenue based.
Another question was raised about the state government’s “rainy day fund,” which is money (almost $1 billion) that is stored in case of a state financial emergency. General revenue money is used to supply the rainy day fund. Since West Virginia is an energy producing state, the fund is designed to deal with the boom and bust economy that entails.
Craig said he felt the fund could be a viable option to offset the funding cut impacts, but the amount and use of funds would require a lengthy discussion and process.
“I think its raining…I can see a lot of discussion around the rainy day fund and pulling funds out of that, the question is what will we use them for,” Craig said.
A major item of concern for West Virginia’s financial situation is the Affordable Care Act, which creates an expansion of Medicare and Medicaid. This expansion is likely to create more holes in state revenue and funding.
Williams spoke up in firm support of Marshall and its impact on the local economy. He introduced the idea that across the board cuts are not the answer, rather targeted, precise cuts.
“The biggest problem you have is when you say 7.5 percent across the board,” Williams said. “Now you’re cutting muscle and you’re cutting vital organs when otherwise, if it was more targeted so that you were assuring in higher education that you’re doing that is necessary to diversify the economy.”
Diversifying the economy and generating more revenue remained dominant in the discussion. An idea was introduced that would create taxes on Internet spending, thereby increasing revenue on a source that most people use today.
More taxes of any sort have historically been rejected from the beginning. But Morgan said what people want, like funding for higher education, will require them to pay.
“If people want something, and the money’s not there, then we have to realize we may have to pay for it,” Morgan said.
Perdue expressed his desire to see more students speaking out about these issues and attending forums like Tuesday’s. He said students should understand the importance of taking control of their future in the higher education system.
When asked about the changing job environment, legislators said entrepreneurship is quickly becoming a viable opportunity for young adults. They also said their job is to foster an environment that will allow for successful entrepreneurship.
The final question during the meeting introduced the possibility for a combination of small tax increases for online purchases and in-store purchases. The audience and legislators reacted positively to the idea and said it was a nice option to consider.
The forum ended with all five senators and the mayor committing to support higher education. While no specific promises were made regarding bill passage, the panel agreed that it was an issue that needed more focus and discussion by the state government.
Williams made a final plea to legislators to step forward and take action to find workable alternatives that are necessary in maintaining higher education.
Alison Wickline can be contacted at email@example.com.