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Kanawha GOP exec committee opposed levy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In past years, the Kanawha County Republican Party Executive Committee has shied away from taking a stand in school excess levy elections.

But the political organization decided to actively campaign against the latest proposed excess levy to support schools and libraries, after tea party member Fred Joseph was elected as the GOP executive committee's chairman four months ago.

It's the first time the county's Republican committee has formally opposed an excess levy, Joseph said Monday. The group voted unanimously to campaign against the levy, he said.

"The citizens are already overtaxed," Joseph said Monday.

On Saturday, more than 75 percent of Kanawha County voters rejected the proposed excess levy, which would have provided $24 million for schools and $3 million for libraries.

Joseph said the county's GOP committee spent more than $900 and purchased 250 "Vote No" signs, urging voters to oppose the levy. Executive committee members also held up signs at two Kanawha County locations -- along Corridor G and beside Interstate 64/77 in Charleston -- last Wednesday and Thursday.

The GOP committee passed a resolution against the levy, but decided against making it public, Joseph said.

The executive committee did not pay for newspaper and radio advertisements, he said. Nor did the group collaborate with Charleston lobbyist Nelson Robinson, who spent about $15,000 on ads to defeat the levy, Joseph said.

"We want people to know we're not against education," Joseph said. "It's the wasteful spending that we have to get under control."

Kanawha County library officials have said they may have to close six of the county's nine libraries unless the system secures $3 million in annual funding. The libraries face a 40 percent budget cut.

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court ruled that the county school board no longer had to financially support the libraries. The levy would have restored the Kanawha library system's annual funding.

Joseph said he would support shutting down the public library system altogether. Instead, private companies could operate libraries, he said. Library patrons would pay fees to check out books and use computers, Joseph said.

Across the nation, tea party members have targeted public libraries, filing lawsuits that challenge the taxes that fund libraries.

"Privatization of the libraries is the way to go," Joseph said.

The Kanawha County Republican Executive Committee also took issue with raising property taxes for schools, Joseph said.

In May, Kanawha voters approved a capped excess levy that will generate no more than $44.2 million a year for schools. That five-year tax won't take effect until July 2014.

"We should not put more money on top of that," Joseph said. "With the money we've already given them, we expected better results."

He alleged that school officials have wasted taxpayers' money for years.

"I just happen to think they've been inefficient," he said. "We're not trying to be mean. We're trying to do what's best for our citizens."

Kanawha County's Democratic Executive Committee members also campaigned against the excess levy, but not in an organized way, said Norris Light, the group's chairman.

"The bulk of the [72-member] committee was opposed to it, but I didn't call for a vote," said Light, who has headed the county's executive committee for 20 years. "We didn't want to make anybody mad."

Light, who lives in Cabin Creek, said senior citizens on fixed incomes and unemployed coal miners could not afford to pay another tax increase.

"I did campaign against it, as a taxpayer and voter in Kanawha County," he said. "I don't understand why the Kanawha County Board of Education -- except for [board President] Pete Thaw -- would support this."

School officials have said the increased levy was necessary to forestall a projected $4 million budget deficit in 2014 caused by the board's 2012 decision to cap the levy, as well as decreases in federal funding.

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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