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Cut budget, but don't let education take a major hit

December 04, 2003

Slumping tax collections in West Virginia make mid-year cuts in every state agency's budget inevitable. The state's schools may not escape the ax, but we agree with state Sen. Bob Plymale, who said cutting education too deeply now would undermine the state's economic development efforts in the future.

Plymale, Senate Education Committee chair, told The Associated Press he felt schools had already been cut enough, but further trimming is probably unavoidable.

That's because in November, tax collections feel below estimates for the third time this fiscal year, putting the budget $6.7 million in the red.

Without mid-year cuts, an aide to Gov. Bob Wise said the shortfall could be $20 million by the end of the budget year.

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It would be nice to protect schools from all cuts, but the education spending accounts for more than half the state's general budget, or about $1.5 billion.

Could administration be cut? Probably, but since that line makes up only 1.1 percent of the total, even eliminating it entire-ly wouldn't do much.

To keep the budget balanced, the state must cut between 2.5 percent and 3 percent of its spending, but Wise opposes an across-the board cut.

We agree. While it's politically easier to do, cutting the budget that way lets lawmakers off the hook. They're paid to oversee government, to find the fat and make sure that cuts don't adversely impact vital services, like education.

Three years ago, the state's Council for Community and Economic Development announced a plan to deal with a state economy too dependent on areas that were shrinking, like mining and timbering.

The key to bringing in new companies and new high-tech jobs is a better-educated work force. Gov. Wise began a pro-education effort by pushing for the legalization of video poker, with revenues dedicated to the PROMISE college scholarship program.

PROMISE has already increased enrollment and will eventually pay off when companies looking for educated workers find them in West Virginia. Between now and then, the Legislature's challenge is to trim the state budget surgically, as opposed to an across-the-board approach that treats good and bad programs as if they were of equal merit.

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