WVCBP executive director Kelly Allen recently met with the Dominion Post Editorial Board to explain how the Justice administration has set the state up for budgetary crisis in the coming years. You can read an excerpt from the Dominion Post’s editorial below:
Unlike many other states, the governor of West Virginia has the constitutional power to set the state’s budget for the coming fiscal year, which is based on its revenue estimates. It is up to the governor’s office to set the “size of the pie,” or the total dollar amount. The Legislature then decides how that money gets divvied up for the year. Legislators can technically go over the governor’s budget, but they must increase revenue in order to do so, which would mean increasing taxes — something they are hesitant to do.
Instead, legislators have worked around flat budgets in the past by allocating one-time funds from the “surplus,” which is any revenue that comes in over the governor’s estimates for the prior fiscal year.
The last several years, Gov. Justice and his office have kept revenue estimates artificially low. When the state brings in more money than the low-ball estimate, that money becomes the surpluses that Justice likes to brag about.
Those artificially low revenue estimates justify Justice’s flat budgets. By constantly predicting not enough money coming in, Justice can continue to set flat budgets for the coming fiscal year instead of raising the budget to meet both real incoming revenue and inflation. This makes it look like he’s constantly saving the state money, but he’s actually chronically underfunding many of the state’s agencies and other taxpayer funded services.
So how has this played out in real life?
It means that there’s never enough money for everything West Virginians want, even if those things have legislative support. Take for example the crises in our jails and emergency services. In the last legislative session, lawmakers were able to provide one-time funds in the forms of bonuses to help address staffing and resource shortages. They had to allocate that money from the surplus, but the surplus can only be used for one-offs. Because of Justice’s very low, flat budgets, lawmakers can’t pass consistent, long-term funding for either without generating new revenue from somewhere. There’s not enough of the “pie” left after funding the essentials from the budget.
Justice’s flat budget — combined with unusually high severance taxes and one-time federal dollars — created the supposed surplus that gave tax-cut fanatics the excuse to reduce income taxes. Which is about to come back and bite us in the fiscal butt.
Between the roughly $900 million in lost tax revenue (from lower severance taxes and income taxes) and the roughly $900 million in oncoming costs (including Hope Scholarship expansion, Third Grade Success Act, increased state share of Medicaid costs and more), last fiscal year’s $1.8 billion surplus is already spent. To make matters worse, Justice’s flat budget for this fiscal year is $600 million less than last year, when adjusted for inflation.
In other words, there’s a very good chance we’re about to hit a financial crisis in West Virginia. It will undoubtably be the Legislature’s fault for cutting long-term tax revenue based on temporary excesses, but Justice shares more of the blame than many may have realized. Unfortunately, he’ll be out of office by the time we truly feel its effects, so he’ll likely escape culpability.
Read the full editorial here.
As the 2024 legislative session approaches, the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy staff would like to invite you to join us at our inaugural Budget and Bites Happy Hour, taking place on January 17, 2024.
For the past 10 years, the WVCBP has hosted our annual Budget Breakfast to provide analysis of the Governor’s proposed budget. Don’t fret—we’ll still provide our budget analysis at Budget and Bites, but we wanted to evolve our event into something more informal and fun. You’ll hear from our executive director, Kelly Allen, our senior policy analyst, Sean O’Leary, and have the opportunity to engage with the rest of the WVCBP team.
Please find further event details below. You can register for the event here. Please note, RSVP is required.
WHEN: January 17, 2024 from 4:30-6:00pm.
WHAT: At 5:00pm, executive director Kelly Allen will introduce senior policy analyst Sean O’Leary, who will give a short analysis of the Governor’s proposed budget. Guests can ask questions and enjoy an informal meet and greet with the rest of the WVCBP team following the presentation. Appetizers and drinks will be provided.
WHERE: West Virginia School Service Personnel Association Conference Center (1610 Washington St. E., Charleston, WV 25311)
PLEASE NOTE: The cost of a single standard ticket is $50, but if you take advantage of our Early Bird Special (available to all who register by 12/31/23), you will receive $10 off.
We appreciate your ongoing support of the WVCBP and we hope you can join us at next year’s event!
New analysis from our colleagues at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) reveals the devastating impact of the personal income tax cut passed by the West Virginia Legislature earlier this year: the cut is estimated to cost the state over $4 billion cumulatively by 2028, shrinking general revenue funds by a staggering 10.5 percent over the next five years.
“West Virginia enacted a sweeping personal income tax cut in 2023 that will likely cost more than $800 million annually starting in 2025 and potentially more over time if new triggers are hit, further exacerbating existing shortfalls in higher education and other state services. The cuts will also limit the state’s future potential by sapping revenues that could have otherwise been invested in people’s unmet needs; for example lifting the incomes of all poor West Virginia families with children above the poverty line would cost about half as much as the recent tax cut, according to one estimate.”
The tax cut also disproportionately benefits the most affluent in our state. From the report:
“In West Virginia, the top 20 percent of taxpayers will receive 65 percent of the benefits of a 2023 tax cut. The bottom 20 percent of filers (those making under $19,000 a year) will receive $21 per year on average, while the top 1 percent (those making $467,000 or more), will get around $10,000 apiece.”
Read the CBPP’s full report here.
According to newly released U.S. Census Bureau estimates, West Virginia’s net migration was positive in 2022. Approximately 43,000 people moved to West Virginia from another state last year, though that’s 1,000 fewer than moved to the state in 2021. The number of people who moved away from West Virginia to another state rose from 36,000 people in 2021 to approximately 41,000 people in 2022. Nationwide, the data shows that most people move nearby–either within the state they already live in or to a neighboring state, and this was the case in West Virginia.
Most of West Virginia’s migration happened within the state, with 136,000 West Virginians moving from one part of the state to another. Ninety percent of the state did not move.
Most people who left West Virginia for another state went to neighboring Ohio, with 11,000 movers. Virginia, Florida, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania were the other states that saw the largest numbers of movers from West Virginia.
In recent years, West Virginia’s negative population growth has been explained by a trend of more West Virginians dying than being born, numbers that far outpace our positive net migration. In addition to growing our population by attracting residents from out of state, we must prioritize policies that improve health outcomes for those who already live here.
While increasing in-state migration was an argument for West Virginia’s recent income tax cuts, the new Census Bureau results show that most people who move do so nearby–either within the state or to a neighboring state. And recent research shows that state tax levels have little effect on whether and where people move. A large majority of people who do move cite job- and family-related reasons as the primary motive for their move. Tax cuts that lead to a deterioration in education, public safety, parks, roads, and other critical services and infrastructure can backfire when they make a state a less desirable place to live, locate businesses, work, and raise a family.
Read Sean’s full blog post.
This guest blog post was authored by Brent Radabaugh. Brent is serving a life with mercy sentence at Huttonsville Correctional Center. He is a graduate of the Bible College, a peer mentor, and a proud father of two young men.
There was a time in my life when I don’t think I could have changed another man’s diaper or given him a bath.
But in 2015 – five years into a life sentence – I volunteered to do just that.
I was a freshman in the Bible College at Mt. Olive Correctional Center when I was asked if I wanted to take a class to become a hospice worker. The job was to provide care to other prison residents who were too old or sick to care for themselves. I wish I could tell you why I signed up. I just knew I wanted to do this.
A year earlier, I had enrolled in Malachi Dads, a prison ministry for incarcerated fathers brought to West Virginia by Calvin Sutphin, Founder of Catalyst Ministries in Charleston. There I learned that I was not unique with problems that could not be fixed. I began to see myself as someone who shared things in common with other men. We could change and we could give back.
Perhaps that’s why I felt called to sign up for hospice work.
I’ll never forget my first day. I was so nervous to meet the man I would care for. Gary was serving a life without parole sentence, and he had been in prison since the Moundsville days. When you’ve been locked up for a lot of years, you have a certain way you like things done. That drew us together – I liked things in a particular place and Gary was the same way.
I prepared his food just the way he liked it. If it was a day he had radiation treatment, I had a pan ready since he was going to be sick.
The first time I bathed him, I was embarrassed to see him naked and so dependent on another man. We never discussed it, and eventually the embarrassment went away. When you’re caring for someone coming to the end of their life, you just want them to be as happy as they can be. So, I would make sure the water was hot like he wanted it. I would help him get out of his clothes and lower him into the bath. I would let him take his time and let that hot water soak into his bones.
Sitting with someone for 12 hours a day, you get to know them. He made it easy – he introduced me to his family. He asked me about my family and my kids. He taught me to find value in every relationship. He talked about the people he had harmed and what they went through all those years since his crime. You cannot take back anything you’ve ever done. But he talked about doing the next right thing.
One day in fall 2015, I was in a different part of the prison waiting for the daily count to finish. A correctional officer found me and told me to go to Gary’s unit as soon as the count cleared. On my way there I was met by a unit manager who told me that Gary had passed – just a month after his 63rd birthday. She was kind enough to say, “Maybe he cared enough about you that he didn’t want to pass while you were there.” They let me spend a few minutes with him. And because we were in a prison that allowed us to have a memorial service, we got to share our memories of Gary and to say goodbye.
It hurt to lose Gary. But I continued to provide hospice care for other men at Mt. Olive and St. Mary’s prisons. One of those men was Robbie, who had been a pastor before he was incarcerated. When I first met him, I had preached for the first time in prison. Every day we would talk about the news, about each other’s relatives we had gotten to know, and about life.
At this same time, my sister was taking care of my dad full time because he could no longer care for himself. Being with Robbie made me feel useful and helped me get through the guilt of not being there to help my sister care for my dad. Occasionally, Robbie would tell me to grab the Bible and read a particular verse. I would read it to him. Then it would hit me, and I would look up and see him smiling at me. Because it was just the thing I needed to hear.
This time I got to see my friend go. One morning in May 2020, a correctional officer woke me up and told me I needed to go to medical because Robbie wasn’t doing very well. When I walked into his room, he gave me the biggest smile. He could not talk, but he smiled the whole day. I knew this was going to be the last day that I got spend with the man who became my mentor, my family. Later that evening, Robbie took his last breath, and he wasn’t alone. That is all his daughter had wanted – that her dad wouldn’t die alone.
Still, I wish Robbie and my other friends had died surrounded by the family they loved so dearly.
This is possible under West Virginia law. An incarcerated person with an “extreme life-threatening” medical condition may petition for Clemency from the governor. A person who is terminally ill or has “an extremely serious” medical condition may receive a Medical Respite release from the governor.
And yet, this almost never happens. According to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, in the last 21 years, only two people were released by Medical Respite and only one person was released through Clemency from the governor.
In that same period, 478 people died in prison.
West Virginia prisons can expect to provide more costly end-of-life care. Since 2002, the number of people aged 50 and older in West Virginia prisons has nearly tripled. Today, people 50 and older account for one out of every four prison residents.
Prison changed my life in so many ways. In the hospice program, I learned that I could do hard things out of compassion and a desire to give another person dignity.
I hope our leaders will step up to create more sensible and compassionate policies for Medical Respite and Clemency. The men and women aging, ailing, and dying behind bars deserve that dignity.
Read Brent’s full blog post.
Between changes to food policy and a local food pantry closure, hunger is alarmingly high in Kanawha County. As a state, West Virginia struggles with some of the highest food insecurity in the country. Statewide, 14 percent of households are considered food insecure, compared to 10.2 percent of the U.S. population. With the end of the COVID-19 public health emergency earlier this year came a return to pre-pandemic food assistance policies like time limits on benefits for some of our state’s most vulnerable.
Throughout the pandemic, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP, also known as food stamps) helped West Virginians make ends meet by temporarily increasing their benefits and pausing restrictions that make food more challenging to access. In spring 2023, the federal government officially ended the public health emergency, reversing those flexibilities and others, and residents have felt that blow in recent months.
In October 2023, over 24,000 West Virginians who rely on SNAP, so-called “able-bodied adults without dependents,” were at risk of losing food assistance due to the reinstatement of SNAP time limits and work reporting requirements that are shown to hinder their access to food while failing to increase employment. In October 2023, the first month the regulation went back into effect, over 1,500 individuals in Kanawha County alone lost their SNAP benefits.
Local food pantries also feel the squeeze as folks facing food insecurity turn to them to bridge the gap. Manna Meal, Charleston’s largest charitable food provider, served more meals in October than in any recent month in history–not coincidentally the first month SNAP time limit restrictions were reinstated. Many of their clients fall into the group affected by the changes to SNAP, as time limits disproportionately impact the unhoused population, residents with mental and physical limitations, those who lack transportation, and those experiencing other significant barriers to work. Beyond food, Manna Meal provides a warm, safe space for residents to build community. It has been an integral part of the safety net in the state’s capital for nearly 50 years.
Last week, Manna Meal had to suspend meal services at a downtown church, transitioning to food truck service, which the charity’s leader described as “not sustainable.” Overnight, the soup kitchen went from serving 619 daily meals to just 217. Manna Meal confirmed in an email exchange with the WVCBP that in subsequent days they are still serving far fewer meals out of the food truck than they were able to provide at the Quarrier Street church location.
Recent political threats further impact Manna Meal’s ability to reach vulnerable populations, with a push to close their location in downtown Charleston just as federal and state policies limit SNAP food assistance for this same population.
Please help our community retain critical access to food. Sign the petition calling on stakeholders to find a way to keep all Charlestonians safe while remaining at the Quarrier Street location and stay updated on the news regarding the pantry.
Read Rhonda’s full blog post here.
In her recent op-ed, WVCBP criminal legal policy analyst Sara Whitaker shares a story of community care, debunks some myths about police overtime in Charleston, and calls on the city to fund alternatives to policing that provide vulnerable populations the supports they need to live with dignity. Read her op-ed below:
Last month, Derek Hudson walked out of Charleston’s Bream SHOP to find a distraught man yelling that his bike had been stolen from the sidewalk. The man paced back and forth, on the verge of tears. The handful of people outside Bream SHOP averted their eyes and avoided engaging with him.
Hudson, the director of Bream SHOP, walked over and calmly encouraged the man to explain the situation. After a few tense moments, the two huddled together over Derek’s phone.
An hour later, Hudson rolled a bike into Bream SHOP. He grinned and explained: “I sent out a text message saying I didn’t care who took it, but please bring the bike back. I got four bikes back, including this one.” It was the same bike taken an hour earlier.
Hudson had a sense of who had been around Bream SHOP when the bike was taken. He also knew folks around the city — mostly unhoused — whom he trusted to keep an eye out for the missing bike. It was one of these folks — a woman — who returned it.
This woman, who had her own bike, was not the person who took it. But after getting Hudson’s text and spotting it, she coaxed the bike back from the person who had.
As a gesture of appreciation, Hudson pulled an extra box of food for the good Samaritan from Bream SHOP’s pantry. He took care not to give the woman anything that required heating, since she was unhoused. Then, Hudson added some additional food items for the woman to give to the person who had taken the bike.
This stolen bike did not end up in Charleston’s crime statistics. No 911 call. No time spent in one of West Virginia’s deadly regional jails.
Instead, a man got his primary mode of transportation back. A good Samaritan was rewarded. Even the person who had taken the bike got some of their needs met with extra food. All within an hour.
Bream SHOP is a different kind of place.
It is a place where you can take a shower, do laundry and receive food. Where you will find a dozen service providers (long-term recovery, HIV care, housing, etc.). A place where people can feel safe, no matter who they are.
This is what a community of care looks like. This is not the community we invest in.
In August, the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy published a report on overtime inside the Charleston Police Department. Last year, CPD claimed 78,000 hours of overtime, adding nearly $3 million to a police budget that already received 20% of city money.
The report debunked some myths around police overtime.
There is no expectation that overtime spending will slow. Instead, this year’s budget allocates $2.6 million for overtime.
Bream SHOP, Charleston’s only drop-in shelter, receives no city funding. Instead, Bream SHOP runs on Hudson’s hustle and the contributions of those who see the value of this sanctuary. A local nonprofit covers the utility bills. A former client uses her minimum-wage earnings to supply water bottles.
Bream SHOP, which is open only on weekday afternoons, often cannot fully meet community need.
It does not need to be this way. Every dollar Charleston spends on overtime or excess policing is a dollar that is not spent preventing the challenges and harm that police are asked to deal with.
For example, a $60,000 investment — 0.25 % of the uniformed police budget — would ensure that Bream SHOP does not run out of food for a year.
What if we stopped looking to police to respond with the tools of the criminal legal system and, instead, turned to communities of care to provide people with what they need to live with dignity?
Research tells us we can expect a safer city. When police stopped enforcing minor offenses in New York City in 2014, reports of major crime went down. Furthermore, proactive interventions like those offered at Bream SHOP lead to reduced crime and prevent harm from occurring in the first place.
But even when harm has already occurred, a community of care can offer a response that makes a person whole and reminds all involved that they belong somewhere.
As Charleston begins to plan the next fiscal year budget, what kind of community will we choose?
Read Sara’s full report on the costs of police overtime in Charleston here.
The third annual West Virginia Black Policy Day, hosted by Black by God The West Virginian and the West Virginia Black Voter Impact Initiative, is scheduled for February 7, 2024. In addition, the event organizers are offering a series of educational webinars leading up to the event.
October’s webinar provided valuable insights about Legislative Interims and Black infant and maternal health policies, and November’s webinar gave a preview of the 2024 Black Policy Agenda. Both offered actionable strategies and resources for folks to make an impact in their communities.
You can register for next month’s webinar (taking place on December 6 at 7pm) here.
Share Your Medicaid Experience with Us!
The WVCBP’s Elevating the Medicaid Enrollment Experience (EMEE) Voices Project seeks to collect stories from West Virginians who have struggled to access Medicaid across the state. Being conducted in partnership with West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, EMEE Voices will gather insight to inform which Medicaid barriers are most pertinent to West Virginians, specifically people of color.
Do you have a Medicaid experience to share? We’d appreciate your insight. Just fill out the contact form on this webpage and we’ll reach out to you soon. We look forward to learning from you!
You can watch WVCBP’s health policy analyst Rhonda Rogombé and West Virginians for Affordable Health Care’s Mariah Plante further break down the project and its goals in this FB Live.