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Abuses seen in W.Va. budget process

July 30, 2000

Abuses seen in W.Va. budget process



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer


CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - A state lawmaker is criticizing Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, and Doyle's support of a new community college in Hardy County, saying the proposed school is too close to Shepherd College's Petersburg, W.Va., branch and could hurt Shepherd.

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The criticism is the latest controversy in this year's state budget process, which has come under scrutiny ever since Del. Arley Johnson, D-Cabell, and five other organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the process.

Johnson claims in his lawsuit filed against Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, and House Speaker Robert Kiss, D-Raleigh, that the Budget Digest - which sets aside money requested by lawmakers for specific projects - is used to influence votes on legislation. Lawmakers who vote the way the legislative leadership wants on issues receive greater decision-making authority over Budget Digest appropriations, according to the suit filed with the state Supreme Court of Appeals.

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Joining Johnson in the suit are The League of Women Voters of West Virginia, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, The West Virginia Citizen Action Group, the West Virginia Education Association, and Common Cause West Virginia.

An affidavit filed by Del. Allen V. Evans, R-Grant, alleges the Budget Digest represents an abuse of power by the legislative leadership because it is used as an attempt to "keep delegates in line" and persuade them to vote the way leaders want them to vote.

In a recent telephone interview, Johnson said the entire budget process is influenced by favoritism, and the issue over the Hardy County community college is a classic example of how politics works in Charleston.

House Finance Chairman Harold Michael, D-Hardy, worked to secure $2 million for the proposed new Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College, which would be near Moorefield in Hardy County, about two hours south of Martinsburg. Michael said he didn't want to talk about Johnson's lawsuit, but said the college is needed because it would be the only school in the Hardy County area to offer high-tech programs.

Despite Michael's argument for the school, Johnson questions the need for the community college in Hardy County. The county has one of the smallest populations in the state and has a large senior citizen population, Johnson said.

"Hardy County needs a community college like it needs a hole in its head," he said.

Moreover, Johnson said, the college would hurt Shepherd College's Petersburg branch, about 12 miles away from Moorefield, because the two schools would be competing for the same students.

Johnson said Doyle, a House Finance vice-chairman, should have fought the Hardy County community college project, but he didn't because Doyle didn't want to risk losing funding for Shepherd College in the Budget Digest. Nearly $500,000 was set aside for Shepherd in the digest, Doyle said.

Johnson said he cannot provide any proof that Doyle did not oppose the Hardy County community college project in order to guarantee funds for Shepherd.

Doyle may be effective at raising money for Shepherd, but his support for the community college in Hardy will eventually hurt Shepherd and the state, Johnson believes.

Doyle disagreed, saying Johnson does not understand the higher education needs in the Eastern Panhandle.

The Moorefield area where the Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College would be located is a better site to serve a six-county area, Doyle said. As for Shepherd, the school needs to question the need for its Petersburg location and instead concentrate on developing a branch in Martinsburg, Doyle said.

Local lawmakers have been trying to get funding to move Shepherd's Community and Technical College to Martinsburg. On July 19, Gov. Cecil Underwood announced during an appearance in Martinsburg that the Blue Ridge Outlets would be the new home for the college and state legislators pledged a total of $300,000 to bring the school to Martinsburg.

Business executives and economic development officials in Berkeley County say a community college is needed in Berkeley County to offer much-needed job training courses.

"Arley Johnson is an outstanding delegate, but I don't think he understands the region here," Doyle said.

The string of events still raises concerns.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the proposed Eastern West Virginia Community and Technical College will "kick Shepherd College out of the Potomac Highlands."

"And to me, that raises a question of 'Why?' We need to stop that situation. Those back-room deals," Unger said, adding the Hardy County proposal basically replaces one community college for another.

Regarding the legislative process in Charleston, Doyle defended the way lawmakers work. Although Doyle said he believes that parts of the Budget Digest process need to be changed, he said there is nothing wrong with making deals.

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