Justice is weighing his decision on Education and the Arts

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Justice is weighing his decision on Education and the Arts
By Brad McElhinny | WV MetroNews

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has a big decision about whether to dismantle one of his own agencies.

The Legislature on Saturday passed a bill that would do away with the Department of Education and the Arts, moving its offices and programs to other state agencies.

Speaking today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” Justice said he hasn’t yet decided what to do.

“I absolutely want to keep it if there’s real value to keeping it,” he said.

He added, “If at the end of the day if all we’re doing is just slapping at somebody and all we save is just $19 or those 19 chickens and three hamburgers then it’s absolutely silly to be doing it.”

The main factor, the governor said, is whether the move would truly save money.

He also wondered aloud whether there could be unanticipated consequences. One factor in that is whether the programs housed in Education and the Arts could be transferred by the time the bill’s July 1 effective dates go into effect.

Another is how the changes might affect federal funding.

Justice said he and his staff are examining the bill and what it would do.

“There’s been a movement on for a good while — years — in saying there was redundancy in this department and we absolutely need to do everything we can to eliminate redundancy and save money,” he said today.

“If genuinely that is what this does. If it saves money and it’s absolutely redundancy, then I’m for it, period, and I’ll sign it.”

A fiscal note from the Department of Education — which is a separate agency from Education and the Arts — estimates savings of $750,000 through the elimination of some staff positions.

A separate fiscal note from the Department of Education and the Arts estimates no savings and suggests the move could actually be inefficient.

“HB 4006 is extremely vague overall,” that fiscal note concludes. “The language in the bill excludes numerous programs and other non-appropriated funds. There is no mention of staffing or administrative support for any of the Agencies. With no mention of centralized administrative support there would be additional cost(s)for each Agency to address this and determine what staffing or other administrative support is needed.”

That fiscal note also suggests it would require at least four months just to transfer funds from one department to another.

“There is no mention of control of inventory and assets and how these would be managed,” according to the fiscal note. “In addition, these have been procured with both State and Federal Funds.”

Among the concerns that have been raised is how the move would affect programs such as Energy Express, which is a child feeding and nutrition program, or the Division of Rehabilitative Services.

Justice, in his “Talkline” interview, referenced those concerns.

“On the other hand, if in fact we find as we’re looking through all the tentacles of the bill that there are disabled people or programs to help the needy and the poor or there’s federal dollars that can be disrupted at any level then we don’t do this,” he said. “And that’s what we’re looking at.”

There’s a political element to the puzzle too.

The bill would eliminate her position, which pays $95,000 a year.West Virginia’s secretary for Education and the Arts is Gayle Manchin, wife of U.S. Senator Joe Manchin.

Justice made reference to that during a Saturday night appearance on “The Legislature Today” on West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“I’m really torn in a lot of different ways,” Justice said.  “If this is a bill that’s targeting Gayle Manchin, that’s not right.”