CHARLESTON, W.Va. — During a ceremony to recognize his approval of a bill dismantling the Department of Education and the Arts, Gov. Jim Justice elaborated on his desire to establish a new state agency to advocate for arts and culture in West Virginia.
Justice said he wants to provide legislation to be considered during a special session in May. The governor said that special session may also include legislation dealing with West Virginia’s new sports betting bill and the possibility of integrity fees for professional leagues.
At the ceremony today in the Governor’s Reception Room, Justice said he envisions a Department of the Arts.
He said it won’t have a secretary like the $95,000-a-year position that was eliminated in the bill he signed. “There’s no real need in eliminating a secretary and creating a secretary; that creates all kinds of confusion,” Justice said.
Instead, he said, the department will have a curator for the arts.
“That person should perpetuate the arts going forward,” he said.
But many of the details still need to be determined.
“Don’t ask me who that’s going to be,” Justice said. “Don’t ask me the specifics and everything because we’re still working on it.”
House Education Chairman Paul Espinosa, one of the biggest advocates for the bill Justice signed, said he thinks a new arts-focused department can be established in an efficient way.
“We’re very much committed to the arts and share the governor’s commitment to ensuring that the arts has an effective advocate going forward,” Espinosa said. “Certainly we’re open to refining this legislation to ensure just that — that the arts has a strong voice in the governor’s cabinet.
“I think it can be done in a way that does not reduce the efficiencies that are achieved through this legislation.”
Justice said if a new Department of the Arts hadn’t been part of the agreement then he wouldn’t have agreed to sign the bill.
What Justice would do with the bill dismantling the Department of Education and the Arts has been highly-anticipated ever since it passed during the regular legislative session.
Conflict over what to do resulted in the firing of Justice’s high-profile secretary for Education and the Arts, Gayle Manchin, the wife of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin.
The Department of Education and the Arts was established by then-Gov. Gaston Caperton, along with other super secretary cabinet positions. In 1989, Caperton proposed a constitutional amendment that would have placed responsibility for public education with the department, rather than with the state Board of Education.
The amendment was defeated, but the department lived.
Justice said several aspects of the bill that he signed deserved serious consideration.
“First and foremost, are we going to be able to do this seamlessly where no one would get hurt? And secondarily, what is the magnitude of the true savings and are they significant? And the third thing is, we have to be able to grow the arts in West Virginia.
“We don’t want to get into a situation where the outside world is looking at us and saying, ‘We know how West Virginia is, and they don’t place a lot of importance on the arts.'”
The Justice administration is now estimating the savings from moving some agencies and programs to the Department of Education and the Arts at $2.6 million.
State schools Superintendent Steve Paine, who was at today’s news conference, said the state Department of Education can absorb many of the functions of the Center for Professional Development, one of the big agencies that has been within Education and the Arts.
“We also are very fond of the Energy Express program,” Paine said, referring to a child nutrition program that had drawn concern because it wasn’t specifically dealt with in the bill.
“We’ve been assured at the federal level that funding is not interrupted — that that funding can be transferred from one department to another.”
A fiscal note from the Department of Education — which is a separate agency from Education and the Arts — estimates savings of $750,000 through the elimination of some staff positions.
A separate fiscal note from the Department of Education and the Arts estimates no savings and suggests the move could actually be inefficient.
Paine on Thursday predicted the savings will actually be greater than either agency had indicated. He said the estimate produced by the Department of Education had only taken into account the effect of moving the Center for Professional Development.
Paine’s top deputy, Clayton Burch, has served as interim secretary for the arts since Manchin’s departure. Paine said that enabled officials to dig into the budget to identify the possibilities of additional savings. He didn’t elaborate on many specifics, except to say the savings can be found within the department.
“We have hard, true factual numbers of $2.6 million that we think we can save,” Paine said.