Looking at fairs and festival funding

Relax, fellow Mountain Staters. The Annual Ruddle Park Jamboree in Pendleton County and Bruceton Mills Good Neighbor Days are safe. So are the Elbert/Filbert Reunion Festival in McDowell County and the Moon Over Mountwood Fishing Festival in Wood County.

So are the scores of other fairs and festivals that receive money — more than $1.3 million a year — through the state budget. Quite a number of them are in our area.

For a few years, there was talk in Charleston that West Virginia legislators should eliminate fairs and festivals funding. Why, the state needed the money for so many other things, critics said.

They didn’t stop to think about the impact fairs and festivals have on the tourism industry. My guess is that the state funding brings in multiples of $1.3 million a year from folks who come here, sometimes from out of state, to visit the maple syrup, strawberry, buckwheat and other festivals and to visit the old-timey county fairs.

Plus, the grinches didn’t count on the uproar that resulted when X-ing out the fairs and festivals line item was suggested. Quite a few legislators went home the weekend after the idea was floated and got an earful from angry constituents.

Who can blame them? Again, a good case can be made for the argument that fairs and festivals funding makes money for both local and state governments. And, in a budget that totals somewhere in excess of $13 billion (including the $4.6 billion or so in the general revenue budget that is the focus most of the time), what’s wrong with spending one ten-thousandth of it to help West Virginians have a good time once or twice a year.

Charleston may be entertaining for a few months every year, but it can’t top a day at the fair or an evening of fireworks.

Gov. Jim Justice and legislators had some really big plans for this year. From pay raises for public employees to more money for roads, from eliminating the state income tax no Social Security payments to funding more initiatives against drug abuse, the cost of what they had hoped to do topped $600 million a year, by my count a few weeks ago.

We aren’t going to have that much more next year than we do this. We’ll be lucky, in my estimation, if revenue next year is even $300 million more than for the current 12 months.

So, the game of the week at the Capitol may be finding places to cut spending.

I checked. Fair and festival money is included in all three versions of the budget, from Justice, the state Senate and the House of Delegates. All three include precisely the same amount as this year for fiscal 2020: $1,346,814.

There is something curious about the governor’s budget proposal, however. For many years, the budget document has specified amounts to go to each individual fair, festival or other special event. That was the law, so the Division of Culture and History had to write checks for those amounts.

Both the House and Senate budget proposals follow that pattern. The governor’s, as shown on the state Budget Office website, does not. It merely lists a fairs and festivals line item, without any specific direction on which fairs and festivals would get how much.

An oversight? Or was the idea to give Culture and History the power to pick winners and losers?

Just to be safe, legislators ought to adopt either the House or Senate version.

— Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.