February 4, 2023
WV Higher Education
CHARLESTON, WV - West Virginia’s Senate Finance Committee on Friday questioned the use of $10 million in funds received by the state as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act for a $13.8 million state contribution to a new baseball field at Marshall University.
Gov. Jim Justice announced the move in September at a media event for the new field, which will be at 3rd Avenue and 22nd Street next to Dot Hicks softball field. The $23 million baseball field project also received $10 million from the city of Huntington and Marshall University.
Work on the field began in October and is expected to be completed in March. J. Berkeley Bentley, General Counsel for Justice, said $28.3 million of CARES Act funds were moved to a different fund before the CARES act deadline to use funds and then used those funds for the field.
“it’s no longer CARES, but the money is still available for lawful purposes,” Bentley said.
Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putman, explained the funds were moved to the Department of Corrections under the guise of coronavirus relief, saying it was compensating the department for lost revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those funds were then sent to Justice’s donations and charities account, which had never given funding to the Department of Corrections.
Bentley said there aren’t plans to use the remaining nearly $18 million in the governor’s fund. Sen. Randy Smith said during the meeting that, looking at the expenses, most looked like COVID-19 recovery uses except the baseball field.
The committee asked Kim Weber, executive director of West Virginia Ethics Commission, to join the meeting. She confirmed Justice’s office had reached out informally about the financial move but would not reveal the advice given.
Weber said that there was no ethics complaint on the matter that had reached to point of “probable cause,” which is when the complaint would be made public.