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W.Va. okays one budget, while dreading next one

March 18, 2003

Many West Virginia lawmakers didn't like the compromises they had to make to balance next year's budget, but most voted for it. But even the six who opposed the $3.03 billion pact agree that next year is likely to be worse.

How much worse? This year's budget grew by only 2 percent and was balanced by increasing tobacco taxes and making cuts in many state departments. Next year revenues are expected to grow by only 1 percent, even though health care costs will continue to go up significantly.

Some lawmakers say they don't see any alternative to even deeper cuts unless the federal government comes up with new money for items like Medicaid. But unless the coming war against Iraq is accomplished at a cost much less than the $100 billion now estimated, that's unlikely.

Money was so tight this year that the Charleston bureau of the Associated Press reported that items cut included the Governor's Honors Academy and an effort to put computers in all school classrooms.

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So what's the answer? Part of it may come when the U.S. Congress confronts the shortage of revenue and the growing demands of state governments for relief. Programs now mandated, like the No Child Left Behind law that brings increased accountability to local education, may be modified to make them less costly. And the Congress may also reconsider a plan to make the recently enacted tx cuts permanent.

In the short term, however, it may be up to individuals and groups like the PTA to raise funds for items like classroom computers.

Some PTA groups feel their mission is not to raise funds, but to lobby government to spend on education. But in the current economy, there may be no alternative to private fund-raising.

The danger here is that more affluent areas will be able to do more for their schools, creating an inequality that doesn't give each child the same shot at a quality education.

Persuading private groups from all over the state to send some of what they raise to less-affluent areas is a good idea, but whether it can be accomplished remains to be seen.

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