CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed budget cuts could put the squeeze on college students who are trying to cover higher tuition costs, according to a policy brief released Friday by the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy.
In his budget proposal for the new fiscal year, which begins July 1, Tomblin wants state agencies to cut their spending by more than $75 million combined.
Nearly half of those proposed budget cuts would come from higher education funding. That could result in greater increases in college tuitions costs, according to the analysis.
West Virginia spends a higher percentage of its state budget on education than most states because it is a "low-income state with large unfunded liabilities, expensive transportation needs and aging schools."
The only source of major growth in state revenues over the next five years, according to the analysis, appears to be from personal income taxes.
State Lottery revenues are predicted to decline, as well as severance, business and occupation, tobacco and corporate net income taxes.
The new analysis, written by Sean O'Leary and Ted Boettner, concludes that to protect the state's long-term financial health, "lawmakers will need to raise revenue and control costs in Medicaid and the state's correction system."
Cuts in higher education funding will reduce funding by $10.4 million to West Virginia University, $4.9 million to Marshall University and millions more to the state's technical and community colleges, according to the analysis.
"If this trend continues," O'Leary and Boettner write, "college will become even less affordable in West Virginia, a state that is already struggling with a lack of education in its workforce."
Exceptions to the proposed cuts include a $108 million increase to the Division of Corrections and a $10 million increase to the West Virginia State Police.
The Division of Human Services will also receive a $10.4 million increase for its Child Care Development program, which helps low-income working parents pay for child care while they work at their jobs.
Spending increases for state prisons and jails have far outpaced increases in almost every other area of the state budget.
Between fiscal year 2005 and fiscal year 2014, spending on the state's prisons grew by 58 percent -- nearly triple the 21 percent increase for all general revenue expenditures in West Virginia.
"The rise in corrections spending," O'Leary and Boettner point out, "is fueled by a growing prisoner population, which has created massive overcrowding in state prisons.
"This has led lawmakers to put prison reform as a major topic in the year's legislative session."
Some legislators have recommended the possible release of some prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent crimes.