How can West Virginia stop budget cuts to higher education?

Nov 6, 2013

Credit Rick Haye - Marshall University Communications

Forums held across southern West Virginia this week are focused on budget cuts in higher education. Sponsored by Marshall University, a forum Thursday evening in South Charleston will allow legislators to hear new ideas on how colleges and universities plan to deal with the cuts. Thursday's discussion is the last in a series of three such forums.

State legislators Kevin Craig, Kelli Sobonya, Carol Miller and Jim Morgan of Cabell County and Don Perdue of Wayne County were on hand Tuesday evening to share their thoughts on possible budget cuts for state colleges and universities. This fiscal year, higher education institutions in West Virginia underwent a 7.5 percent cut to their state budget appropriations and have been asked to submit budgets reflecting cuts of another 7.5 percent or up to 8.3 percent for next year.

Here's a few of the ideas proposed to prevent public university students from bearing the burden:

1. Tap a portion of the state's nearly $1 billion Rainy Day Fund.

Delegate Kevin Craig said he understands the Rainy Day Fund looks appealing because it’s starting to rain.

“It’s a thought, we have to walk down that path because now it’s raining and for some degree why we all think it’s a good idea to have a rainy day fund, exactly how much you need in it is the question and how do you best utilize those funds, but I agree it’s raining,” Craig said.

2. An increase in taxes.

With the state  running 4 percent behind on tax collections (which has been heavily attributed to a struggling coal economy), Delegate Jim Morgan noted there is also a decline in revenue from the reduction of the corporate income tax and the elimination of the food sales tax. Delegate Don Perdue argues the way out may be through tax hikes.

“So just talking about budget cuts here is where I come down on that, it’s not a popular one, we’re going to have to raise some taxes, but if we’re going to do something about that particular problem we better come up with a way to get that money and the only way I can see it is through tax increases,” Perdue said.

But others like Delegate Kelli Sobonya aren’t sure new taxes are the answer. She wants to carefully look at where money is currently being spent.

“Before you start digging into the pockets of West Virginian’s who have the lowest per capita income in the nation, we want to make sure that every dollar and dime of tax payer dollars is being utilized in an efficient and effective manner,” Sobonya said.

Reactions from students

Student Jarren Johnson said he felt the legislators took his and other student’s ideas seriously and ultimately the crowd will have to wait and see how the delegates vote.

“I would have liked to see a little more straight forwardness, but the delegates that did come I felt like did have our best interest in mind, but you’re never going to find a politician that’s going to say, no I don’t support higher education, so when you have an elected official say they’re going to support it, well when it goes to casting that actual vote that’s when we’re going to see what their real answers were,” Johnson said.

Jonathan Gomez of Parkersburg said he understands completely that to get what higher education needs, it might come down to paying more.

“The money has to come from somewhere, if you need to raise taxes that’s ok with me. I actually feel that we do need to do that to get what we need because there is nowhere else for the funding to come from, gambling money only comes so far and the turnpike money only comes so far, so taxes are the only logical way to get it,” he said.

Reactions from faculty

Janet Dooley, Associate Dean for the College of Arts and Media and Program Director for the school of journalism, said the response of the legislators was optimistic, but it’s going to take time.

“This is going to be a slow process, this isn’t something that’s going to change in March, this is going to be a look strategically at how we’re bringing funding into the state, I think in March we’re still going to be a little upset about how things are going, but I think in the long run it can be made better,” she said.

The final of the three meetings which started in Pt. Pleasant Monday is in South Charleston at the Marshall graduate school campus Thursday.

Editor's Note: West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Beth Vorhees has moderated this series of discussions.