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West Virginia Governor Vetoes $1.46-Billion Spending Bill

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Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. of West Virginia has vetoed the legislature's $1.46-billion state spending plan for fiscal 1989, calling the budget a "fantasyland'' that was "hastily contrived and ill-advised.''

The Governor's March 19 action set the stage for a series of three special sessions with implications for the financing and operations of the state public schools.

First, lawmakers were expected during a one-day session last week to approve a bill that could temporarily ease the state's chronic problem of delayed aid payments to county school districts.

The measure would allow the Governor to borrow $50 million from the state's consolidated investment fund to make aid payments to districts, and permit him to pay back the loan by June 30, 1989.

In addition, the Governor has said he will convene two special sessions following May 10 primary elections for state House and Senate seats. The first session will be devoted to recrafting the budget; the second will focus entirely on school reform.

Reform Bill Died

A House-Senate conference committee reached an agreement on a far-ranging, 170-page reform bill at 11 P.M. on March 12, but it died when the regular session ended an hour later.

Senator Keith Burdette, who recently resigned as chair of the chamber's education committee to protest the Senate leadership's handling of the budget, said he expected the reform bill to "survive in some fashion'' during the special session on education.

Governor Moore, meanwhile, has not outlined what reform initiatives he wants lawmakers to consider, deciding it would be better "not to tip his hand before he puts items on the call'' for the special session, said John Price, his press secretary.

Unprecedented 'Outrage'

In his veto message, the Governor said the legislature's proposed budget generated an unprecedented "level of outrage expressed by West Virginians from all walks of life.''

According to the Governor, the bill's appropriation for precollegiate education was "a sham to try and mislead the public.''

Although it "would appear to be an increased amount'' over the current $755-million spending level, he said, it fell some $30 million short of the amount needed "just to meet basic requirements.''

Under the state constitution, public education ranks second only to bonded debt in priority for state financing. Several weeks ago, the West Virginia Supreme Court declared the fiscal 1988 budget unconstitutional on the grounds that it failed to fund education fully.

According to a staff member of the Senate finance committee, it is virtually impossible to compare the Governor's budget request for K-12 education with either the $786 million approved by the legislature or this year's funding level because they do not include all of the same programs. For example, the Governor's office cites his fiscal 1989 request for precollegiate education as $772 million; the Senate finance panel, on the other hand, reports that it is $718 million.

$25 Million for Reforms

The finance committee aide noted that the vetoed budget plan would have authorized an estimated $25 million for the reform bill that died during closing minutes of the regular session.

According to Senator Burdette, the measure included provisions that would have:

  • "Deregulated'' education by forming school-based committees of adminstrators, teachers, and parents that would have designed their own curricula to meet the state's student-learning outcomes.
  • Created a statewide testing program, with low-scoring students being retained in their grades if they failed to successfully complete a locally designed remediation program.
  • Frozen county districts' current pupil-teacher ratios for two years.
  • Implemented new standards for classifying children as either gifted or handicapped.
  • Revoked the driver's licenses of dropouts under age 18.
  • Toughened sanctions against the parents of chronically truant students.

"I believe the crux of this package will survive in the special session,'' the senator said. "Nobody knows what the Governor plans to propose, but I suspect we'll incorporate as much of it as makes sense.''

More Join Finance Suit

In a related development, 31 West Virginia districts have joined 15 others in a suit that seeks to block a state circuit judge from carrying out his threat to redistribute property-tax revenues in the wake of voters' rejection this month of a proposed constitutional amendment.

On March 5, voters resoundingly defeated a ballot proposal that would have set a 90 percent "excess'' levy in all districts. Special Judge Larry Cook, who oversees the state's ongoing school-finance suit, said last year that he would order the tax redistribution if the amendment was defeated.

The state supreme court is expected to rule on the matter before June 30, the date that Judge Cook has set for his action.

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