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Legislators to meet Sunday for interims; Gee will discuss WVU cuts, state funding formula Monday

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by CAITY COYNE


West Virginia legislators are scheduled to convene at the Capitol once again Sunday for the start of September interim meetings.

Many of the meetings scheduled for next week are makeups from August interims, when at least 12 committees canceled their meetings due to a last minute, 44-item special session call from Gov. Jim Justice.

Interim meetings are scheduled throughout the year when the Legislature is out of session to allow lawmakers to hear presentations and reports on programs and departments within state government. Rarely is action taken during interims, but the information shared is often used to inform legislation introduced in the next regular session, which will start in January 2024.

Most notably, West Virginia University President E. Gordon Gee, along with university Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop, will talk to legislators on the Joint Standing Committee on Finance Monday about the ongoing program changes at WVU. Those changes are expected to include cutting dozens of degree programs and more than 150 staff positions due to the school facing a $45 million budget deficit. The WVU Board of Governors is scheduled to vote on Sept. 15 on final cuts for the school.

Last week, in a rare meeting of the University Assembly, faculty members at WVU overwhelmingly passed a no confidence vote against Gee and voted to freeze the university’s transition, including the program and staff cuts.

According to the agenda, Gee and Alsop will also be discussing the state’s school funding formula with lawmakers. For years, WVU leadership has cited a decrease in state funding as the reason tuition increases have become annual occurrences for the school. State funding accounts for roughly a tenth of WVU’s annual budget.

Since 2013, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, state funding made available for higher education has fallen nearly 25%. If the state were funding WVU at 2013 levels, according to the center, the school’s budget deficit would be significantly smaller.

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But despite a consistent decline in new student enrollment, WVU has continued to spend above its means. According to an analysis from the Wall Street Journal, inflation-adjusted spending at WVU rose by 38% between 2002 and 2022 while enrollment only increased 7%.

Gee has said multiple times in the last few months that he will not request funding from the Legislature to help WVU out of the budget hole. During last month’s special legislative session, lawmakers approved allocating $45 million – the exact amount WVU needed this fiscal year to fill its budget – to Marshall University for a new cybersecurity program. At a bill signing ceremony for the legislation, Justice lauded Marshall as “another flagship university” in West Virginia.

Here’s what else is scheduled for interims:

Criminal justiceOn Monday, lawmakers will hear from judicial officials regarding bail, pretrial release programs and more. During last month’s special session, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 1010, which allows the state Supreme Court of Appeals to design pretrial release programs in all circuits in the state “with the aim of reducing regional jail populations.” Another bill that would have changed policies for what defendants could use to make bail after they are arrested and added numerous reporting requirements for prosecuting attorneys and the Supreme Court, however, died in the House.

Medicaid: On Sunday, the Post Audits Committee will hear a report on the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit from Audit Manager Mike Jones. On Tuesday, Michael Caruso, incoming secretary for the Department of Health Facilities, will update lawmakers on the end of continuous enrollment for Medicaid. The federal government has already raised concerns about the impact of unwinding Medicaid for West Virginians as a number of residents who qualify for coverage are expected to lose it due to filing errors and procedural reasons.

Residential treatment facilities: Cammie Chapman, deputy secretary of Children and Adult Services, will update lawmakers on the Joint Standing Committee on Health about residential treatment facilities for children. There are currently 71% more kids in state custody today than 10 years ago, according to state data. As of August, 280 West Virginian children were being housed in out-of-state residential facilities. Some of those kids have been placed in abusive or unsafe situations miles away from their home state. The state is currently developing a plan to keep more kids in state.

This is not an exhaustive look at what is scheduled to be discussed next week. Interims will run from Sept. 10-14, with the last two days reserved specifically for the Legislative Rule-Making Committee. Meetings may be canceled or rescheduled at any time.

To see all scheduled meetings, their times and the posted agendas, visit the Legislature’s website.

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This story was originally published by West Virginia Watch.

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  • West Virginia Watch

    West Virginia Watch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. West Virginia Watch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Leann Ray for questions: info@westvirginiawatch.com. Follow West Virginia Watch on Facebook and Twitter. View all posts

West Virginia Watch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. West Virginia Watch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Leann Ray for questions: info@westvirginiawatch.com. Follow West Virginia Watch on Facebook and Twitter.