Child, Family Advocates Continue Fight Over State Budget

May 20, 2014

Stephen Smith, executive director of the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, speaking at the vigil Tuesday.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Child and family advocates are not giving up their fight to restore more than $800,000 in funding cut from service programs across the state. A vigil, spearheaded by the Our Children, Our Future campaign, took to the State Capitol Tuesday morning to have their message heard.

Executive Director for the Healthy Kids and Families Coalition Stephen Smith stood in the lower rotunda of the Capitol surround by fellow social service advocates holding signs. Some contained countless purple ribbons representing families expected to lose services if the cuts aren’t restored, others with 80 pink slips representing the number of jobs expected to be lost.

“We want commitments from our legislators and from that the state that we’ll never be in this position again," Smith said.

The cuts came as part of a line item veto by the governor in March. Of the approximately $1 million cut, Gov. Tomblin has since restored about $200,000, but advocates and even some lawmakers say that's not enough, including Senate President Jeff Kessler.

"I don't anticipate these cuts are going to be restored before we leave this week, but my message to you is don't give up on our children and I pledge to you I have not, I will not," Kessler said.

Senate President Jeff Kessler at Tuesday's rally.
Credit Ashton Marra / West Virginia Public Broadcasting

Kessler said if these groups want to see the change in funding, they have to make a commitment to educate the governor and his staff about what they do, that the services they provide are not duplicative.

House Speaker Tim Miley didn’t attend the vigil, but joined Kessler in his backing of the services.

"If these services aren’t being provided than what services are? How does intervention occur if not through these services?” Miley said Tuesday.

But Miley said for the administration, it’s not a question of are these programs important, it’s a question of being able to afford them in an incredibly tight budget year.

“The governor’s fiscally conservative which is not a bad thing, but when you have to make cuts, do you make them generally across the board or make some additional or greater cuts in certain areas and less in others? So, the governor with his line item veto chose to make cuts to these programs as well as cuts across the board in many others and his position, at least as its been explained to me, is that if he starts opening the door to restore some of the cuts to the line item veto, it creates a slippery slope to then decide: are the other cuts to these other programs not worthy of restoration?”

Two hundred supporters met with their senators and delegates at the Capitol following the vigil, asking their lawmakers to commit to restoring the funds by July and to finding a more stable source of funding for the future.