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Gov. Justice squelches local delegates’ request for special session to fund WVU budget shortfall

MORGANTOWN — Four Monongalia and Marion County delegates called on Gov. Jim Justice on Tuesday to call a special session to provide some stop-gap funding for WVU’s budget shortfall — but the request fizzled quickly on Wednesday.

Mon Democrats Anitra Hamilton, Evan Hansen and John Williams, and Marion Democrat Joey Garcia sent the request to Justice.

“These cuts and their practical effect on faculty and the education that they provide are a reflection of years of inadequate funding to higher education,” Williams said in the announcement of the request. “We are asking for $45 million as a stop-gap measure to provide the administration more time to find alternative solutions.”

Back in the August special session, Justice introduced and the Legislature passed a bill to allot $45 million from surplus funds to Marshall University to expand its cybersecurity program with a new building for a full institute with 13 labs, to serve as a hub for the 13-state Appalachian region.

Hansen proposed an amendment to that bill to also allot $45 million to WVU to cover its shortfall, but the amendment was ruled not germane to the bill and was not put to a vote.

Hamilton said of the current proposal that it would not only help WVU with its financial struggle but also “bring hope back in what seems like a hopeless situation for many faculty, staff and students.”

And Garcia said the state’s $2 billion budget surplus gives the Legislature the ability to re-prioritize higher education funding at the state’s flagship university.

Following on that, Hansen said, “We need a strong flagship university to keep West Virginians in the state and attract people to our state.”

WVU is facing faculty and program cuts to address the shortfall. The Board of Governors is slated to hear public comments on final recommendations from the provost’s office on Thursday and vote on the recommendations on Friday.

Justice took a question on the request during his Wednesday press briefing.

“I am welcome to ideas,” he said. However, “I do not think there is an appetite from the standpoint of the leadership in the Legislature at this point in time to basically bail out WVU.”

The state needs to be there in a back-fall situation, he said, but let WVU have time to rectify itself. There is some level of bloating, but he has confidence in President Gordon Gee and the Board of Governors to resolve the situation.

The problem with using one-time money, he said, is “if the house is still not in order, the house comes tumbling down in the years to come.”

He wants WVU to know “we’re standing in the wings, and we’ll always be supportive of our great university, but they need to get their house in order.”

Justice’s characterization of the appetite of legislative leadership appeared to be correct. The Dominion Post contacted the offices of House Speaker Roger Hanshaw and Senate President Craig Blair for comment. Hanshaw chose not to weigh in. Blair couldn’t be reached.


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