In a petulant and vengeful move after their defeat at the hands of a state full of angry striking teachers fighting for a living wage and affordable health benefits, the West Virginia state legislature has voted to eliminate the state’s Department of Education and the Arts to pay for the 5% raise that the teachers finally won.
According to the West Virginia Metro News, the bill passed the legislature yesterday and will head to Republican Governor Jim Justice’s office for final approval. The bill not only dismantles the agency by spinning off some offices to other divisions of the state government, but it effectively eliminates the job of state secretary for Education and the Arts, a $95,000 per-year position currently held by Gayle Manchin, wife of Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
West Virginia Democrats, who opposed the plan, see it as a sick form of revenge for the failure of the Republican legislature to break the nine-day strike by teachers in the state who held out for a long-overdue raise rather than return to the classroom under pressure from the tight-fisted Republicans who preferred to continue their policy of cutting taxes for the wealthy rather than properly funding education in the state.
The Democrats also see the move as the end of arts funding in the state, at least as long as Republicans maintain their majority.
“This is going to destroy arts in West Virginia,” Delegate Larry Rowe (D-Kanawha) said. “Always, always the first thing to be cut is the arts.”
Rowe complained that the bill will create a mess in the state with the logistical and financial effects of the measure not having been properly considered. The state budget that was passed earlier the same day did not account for the changes that the elimination of the department entailed, according to Rowe.
“We just finished the budget with great pride that we did it before the extended session. We’re supposed to account for all the legislation and complete it before the budget,” he said.
With President Trump’s promises to bring back coal jobs to the region becoming a fading memory, the hard financial realities of West Virginia’s budget woes are forcing legislators to make hard decisions. With Republicans controlling the state government, the choices they make will certainly be to eliminate more vital services designed to help the general public rather than tax the wealthy sufficiently to fund the public programs that the people of the state need and deserve.