By William R. "Bill" Wooton
In a letter to the editor published on Oct. 10, Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester wrote of “Small Cutbacks Across State Government Until the Economy Fully Recovers,” and acknowledged that “these cuts are painful to arts organizations.”
Mayor Manchester expressed regret “that the cuts to Theatre West Virginia were significant enough to cause it to close; however, TWV is not alone in dealing with the reality of reduced state funding for the arts.”
As Mayor Manchester noted, for the last few years Theatre West Virginia and other arts organizations have experienced across-the-board percentage cuts in their funding. These reductions have been applied equally and fairly to all arts organizations. These cuts are not what killed TWV.
The funding cutback that crippled TWV occurred in 2008, when the Legislature transferred $100,000 from Theatre West Virginia to the Greenbrier Valley Theatre.
The economic impact of tourism on the economy of southern West Virginia approaches that of coal. The loss of TWV is a crucial blow to the tourism component of our economy.
In the Sept. 18 Register-Herald, Delegate Linda Sumner called the closing of Theatre West Virginia “a great loss.”
While Delegate Sumner’s sympathetic words were appreciated by supporters of TWV, most supporters are more interested in why Sumner voted to transfer $100,000 from Theatre West Virginia to Greenbrier Valley Theatre.
In 2008, the Legislature adjourned its regular session at midnight on Saturday, March 8, and immediately commenced an extended session to resolve differences in the budget bills passed by the House and the Senate. There were numerous differences in the two budget bills, but both bills agreed to continue funding TWV at the same level it had enjoyed for several years.
During extended session to finalize the budget, six House and six Senate members meet as the Budget Conference Committee to resolve differences. Legislators who are not members of the Budget Conference Committee sometimes stay in Charleston, ostensibly to monitor progress on the budget. Those members who stay receive approximately $300 per day in compensation and per diem expense money, if they attend a daily session lasting less than 15 minutes.
Linda Sumner remained in Charleston, with no duties other than to “monitor the budget,” from March 9 through March 16, and collected more than $2,400 in compensation and expenses.
Was this money well-spent? How effectively did Sumner “monitor the budget”? The final Budget Conference Committee report recommended transferring $100,000 from Theatre West Virginia to Greenbrier Valley Theatre. And Linda Sumner voted to transfer that money!
Delegate Sumner should tell the voters of Raleigh County why she voted to transfer $100,000 from Theatre West Virginia. If she was unaware that the transfer was contained in the final budget bill, what was she doing during the eight days she stayed in Charleston to monitor the budget?
That transfer was the death-knell of Theatre West Virginia. From that time until now TWV has been on life support, and now it is gone. And our economy — increasingly fueled by tourism — has suffered a grievous blow.
— Beckley attorney Bill Wooton is a former member of the Theatre West Virginia Board of Directors and a former member of the West Virginia House of Delegates.