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W.Va. higher ed seeks exemption from budget cuts

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia higher education leaders plan to ask Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin for an exemption from his plan to cut many state agencies' budgets by 7.5 percent -- a reduction that would cost the state's colleges and universities almost $35 million.

"It's sort of like asking your star quarterback to take a salary cut," David Hendrickson, chairman of the state Higher Education Policy Commission, said Friday. "I think we need to send a strong message to the governor that we can't make any more cuts.

"They want us to increase college graduates in this state, which will increase the work force, which will increase the tax base and state revenue -- but we can't do that with this drastic cut."

On Monday, Tomblin told most state agencies to prepare to cut their expenses by 7.5 percent for the 2013-14 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2013.

For the higher education system, that amounts to slashing $34.8 million from public colleges and universities next year, according to the Higher Education Policy Commission.

Higher education Chancellor Paul Hill plans to ask the governor for the exemption by the end of next week.

Public higher education was expecting to receive $528,967,825 million in state appropriations for the 2013 fiscal year, according to the HEPC. Some parts of the budget, including some funding for the Promise Scholarship program, are already exempt from the cuts. Those exemptions total about $65 million.

Higher education officials said they don't want to cut from a different $65 million that goes to students for financial aid. Instead, they said, they will slash direct funding to public institutions, if necessary.

"Colleges will have to look at inefficiencies in programs and eliminate some things," said Ed Magee, the commission's vice chancellor, "but West Virginia's cost per student is already pretty low, compared to other states. That means tuition increases may need to be part [of the solution]."

The HEPC has been in this situation before. In 2003, it slashed $34 million from its budget after then-Gov. Bob Wise ordered all government agencies to trim their budgets by 9 percent.

In other cases, though, state officials have granted higher education leniency from the full brunt of budget cuts.

In 2002, Wise agreed to exempt financial aid, including the Promise Scholarship, the West Virginia Higher Education Grant program and higher education adult part-time student grants, from a 3.4 percent budget cut. Public colleges and universities, however, had to reduce their spending by more than $12 million.

In 2009, then-Gov. Joe Manchin ordered state agencies to cut $120 million from their budgets to avoid a deficit, but higher education was spared significant belt-tightening because the state used money from the federal stimulus package to fill in the holes in the education budget.

Reach Amy Julia Harris at amy.harris@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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