This session of the Legislature will be dominated by discussion and debate over ways to save money and raise revenue. Governor Justice has proposed $450 million in new taxes and $27 million in cuts, while Republicans are expected to craft a counter proposal that makes much deeper cuts.
But cutting government spending takes considerable political will because just about every item in the budget has a constituency group. Consider the fallout generated so far by even modest proposed cuts.
Justice’s proposed $4.6 million cut to the state Educational Broadcasting Authority led to media stories about the impact on its operations, including the popular Mountain Stage live music program.
Larry Groce, host of the nationally-syndicated show, said the cut would probably put Mountain Stage off the air. “One of the things we’re doing is helping to elevate the image of West Virginia,” Groce told MetroNews’ Jeff Jenkins. “We have a lot of bad publicity in West Virginia; that’s easy to get. But we don’t have a lot of good publicity.”
Filmmakers have voiced their opposition to Justice’s proposed elimination of the West Virginia Film Office, which would save $341,000. Diana Sole Walko, CEO of MotionMasters, a West Virginia production company, says it does not make sense to eliminate an office that actually produces revenue through tax credits.
“Through 2014, which is the most recent data available, more than $43 million has been spent in West Virginia as a direct result of the credit,” Walko said. “Yes, West Virginia is faced with difficult decisions financially, but why would you cut an office and a credit that brings jobs and revenue to our state?”
Delegate Marty Gearheart (R-Mercer) has introduced legislation to eliminate the Courtesy Patrol, a service for stranded motorists on the state’s major highways that is manned by individuals on public assistance. Gearheart says the service is unnecessary and the $5 million it will cost this year would be better spent fixing the roads.
But during debate in the House Roads and Transportation Committee Monday, Delegate Ed Evans (D-McDowell) argued the Courtesy Patrol provides an invaluable service, especially in emergencies. “I know everything comes down to funding,” Evans said. “How much do we put on a human life?”
This is how it’s going to go for the remainder of the session, with the protestations becoming more frequent, and in some cases more desperate, as the Governor and the Legislature attempt to cut spending.