Bill would give $3 million to State Parks

The State Parks will receive about $3 million in supplemental funds if a bill introduced Thursday passes the Legislature.State Budget Director Mike McKown said the parks system needs the money because of a "structural budget problem.""State Parks are short on operating money," he said.As part of the bill, the additional $3 million would be built into the system's base budget. McKown told members of the Senate Finance Committee Thursday the system has enough money to meet one more payroll cycle. After that, it's anyone's guess.However, acting parks director Emily Fleming told the Legislature in December the system needs about $8.6 million to meet system needs and be fully operational.Commerce Secretary Keith Burdette said the parks actually are receiving two supplemental appropriations.One is a one-time cost of $3.7 million to help Canaan Valley pay some past-due bills. The other, laid out in the bill introduced Thursday, is a $2.8 million supplemental appropriation to help cover the shortfall. Burdette said much of the cost was incurred two years ago when two major natural disasters hit West Virginia - the derecho and Superstorm Sandy. Both storms caused extensive damage to state parks across the state, and Canaan was forced to shut down for some time after Sandy hit.Burdette said Canaan Valley is one of the major revenue generators for the state parks system."We've been juggling the ball for a couple of years," Burdette said. "We've had smaller supplementals in each of the last two years trying to get out of the problem. And we still have a year or so to get here."Burdette said the Commerce Department and parks system would work with the Legislature over the next couple of years to balance other capital needs the system has.

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The Senate Education Committee is expecting at least one resolution and one bill to come from the education subcommittees.The larger committee heard reports Thursday. Education Subcommittee B adopted both pieces of legislation - a resolution calling on Congress to look into student loan and repayment and a bill that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed last year on technicalities.The bill, House Bill 2738, would have affected scholarships for students studying health sciences and the Academic Common Market, a program that allows West Virginia students to study at out-of-state schools that offer programs not available in West Virginia.The tuition is funded through a Southern Regional Education Board program at $1.3 million annually, said Rob Anderson, executive vice chancellor for administration for the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission.
The bill affected the study areas of veterinary science, podiatry and optometry.But Anderson said there should be some changes to the program to shore up funding for the future."There needs to be some type of service for the state of West Virginia," Anderson said.For example, if a student goes out-of-state to study optometry, the student should return to West Virginia after graduation to practice. For each year the student practices in-state, part of the loan would be forgiven. If a student doesn't return to West Virginia, he would be expected to repay the loan, and that money would go into an account to help fund the program's future students."These funds are tight and competitive," Anderson said. But, he noted tracking down students who don't return to the Mountain State could be difficult.Despite that, Anderson said the program is working and sets higher standards for student participants. The HEPC is working to establish relationships with regional schools, such as Virginia Tech, to expand the number of slots available in these programs to West Virginia students.
"Some of these programs are so costly it makes sense for us to send our students to these schools and come back to West Virginia to practice and use those skills," Anderson said.
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