- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 5, 2017

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia’s Senate on Wednesday advanced a budget that would cut about $160 million of state spending, including a 15 percent cut in support for West Virginia University.

Senate President Mitch Carmichael and others backing the budget drafted by the majority Republican Caucus said the government needs to limit spending.

“This is what the people want us to do,” said Sen. Charles Trump, a Morgan County Republican. “They want us live within our means.”

Minority Leader Roman Prezioso and other Democrats said the $41.5 million cut to higher education would hurt WVU and the other state schools, while the Department of Health and Human Resources would lose almost 3.7 percent across the board, much of it matched with federal dollars that would be lost.

“In a time when we need to invest in higher education to kick-start this economy, we’re turning around and are going to cut,” Prezioso said. “And the bulk of those cuts are going to come from WVU, our land grant institution, our research institution. They can’t afford to take these cuts.”

In a letter Tuesday, WVU President Gordon Gee said the proposed Senate cuts would require significant layoffs and tuition increases at the university, describing the school as the state’s economic engine.

Sen. John Unger, a Martinsburg Democrat, read part of the letter during Wednesday’s debate on the Senate floor. He asked if Carmichael had received a copy. The leader of the Republican majority said he may have.

“It doesn’t surprise me that an advocate for more money wants more,” Carmichael said. “Someone who runs an institution wants more money from the state of West Virginia. I get that.”

The Senate document is part of an overall process that includes the House budget proposal and probably not final, Finance Committee Chairman Mike Hall said. The overall spending is about $13 billion including about $4.1 billion of the state’s general revenues. “We know there are some things here perhaps in the process we can recapture,” he said.

The budget plan the House approved 58-42 on Wednesday evening would make about $75 million in new cuts overall, including nearly 6 percent from higher education with remaining state support not earmarked specifically for individual schools. Gov. Jim Justice also proposed smaller cuts for state colleges and universities than the Senate.

Delegate Justin Marcum, a Mingo County Democrat, said that provision appears designed to funnel more money to campuses in the state’s Eastern Panhandle.

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