Child abuse and poverty prevention advocates are questioning Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s priorities.
Among the $67 million worth of cuts from the budget bill Thursday was about a $1 million reduction in funding for programs meant to prevent child abuse and child poverty.
"If those services are cut back those children are going to suffer," Executive Director of the REACHH Family Resource Center in Summers County Beth Sizemore said. "It feels like we’re balancing the budget on the backs of children."
Governor Tomblin started the 2014 session with a budget that cut funding for several programs.
Sizemore wanted to maintain the same funding as last year so she joined groups like Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia, and West Virginia Healthy Kids and Family Coalition, which is part of the statewide goal to end child poverty in West Virginia through the Our Children Our Future Campaign.
Throughout the session the groups worked together to call on legislators in the House and Senate to restore funding to these agencies … and it worked, until the final budget signing.
"I think the legislature did their job," Sizemore said. "They listened to their constituents and they restored our funding so I guess what is shocking to me is it seemed like the system worked and then bam we got hit with this."
The Family Resource Center in Hinton is just one of 24 across the state that will bare a portion of Tomblin’s budget cut burdens.
While Tomblin outlined 42 objections to the budget that was passed by the legislature last week, the groups point to six lines vetoed, totaling about $980,000 including;
- Children’s Trust Fund (child abuse and prevention)
- In home family education
- Family resource networks/centers
- Grants for licensed domestic violence programs
- Domestic violence legal services fund
- Child advocacy centers
"Your budget is a moral document," Director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Family Coalition Stephen Smith said. "It’s a statement of what you think is important of the priorities of what you think is important."
"If this is our moral document than we’re saying that luxury hotels and other programs and casinos and other things and those things are more important than early childhood programs."
In a letter outlining cuts from budget vetoes, Governor Tomblin said, “cuts are never easy but are necessary in our state’s current financial situation.”
On the same day, the governor signed into law an extension of the Tourism Development Act which is expected to provide millions in tax breaks to The Greenbrier Resort. Owner Jim Justice says the money will be used to build an NFL training camp for the New Orleans Saints. The camp is expected to bring in tourism dollars to Greenbrier County.
State Coordinator of Prevent Child Abuse West Virginia Jim McKay says budget negotiations included a lot about sustaining the state’s thoroughbred and greyhound racing industry as well.
"There’s funds in the state budget for racetrack modernization funds that’s approximately $9 million each year," McKay said. "Frankly we feel like thoroughbreds and greyhounds have much more success through the legislative budgeting process than children and families have this year."
Tomblin also told reporters on Thursday that cuts were necessary to avoid dipping any more into the ‘rainy day fund’ in order to maintain higher bond ratings.
Tomblin told the Charleston Gazette Thursday, “The last thing we want to do is overspend the money and watch our bond rating decline, like it did back in the '80s. The reason it was created many years ago was for rainy days like this."