The 60-day regular session of the West Virginia Legislature is underway.  Here’s what to watch for:

–Politics:  The Legislature is a political body so that’s to be expected, but look for even more political maneuvering this session for two reasons:  It’s an election year.  All 100 House seats are up and half of the 34 Senators.  Lawmakers are particularly sensitive in an election year to how the actions under the capitol dome will affect them.  Additionally, Republicans believe they have a chance at taking control of the House (Democrats hold a slim 53-47 majority) and making inroads in the Senate (Democrats outnumber Republicans 24-10).

–Pay Raises:  The leaders of both teacher unions say they did their part last session by agreeing to most of Governor Tomblin’s education reforms, and they now believe it’s their turn to get what they want–a pay raise for school teachers and service workers.  Teachers get a small automatic raise every year based on their experience, but they have not had an across-the-board raise since 2012.   The state’s public employees also believe raises are overdue.  Gov. Tomblin is proposing a two percent raise for teachers and school service workers and a $504 increase for state employeers.  Teacher union leaders call that a starting point.

–The Budget:  Pay raises and increases in spending that carry forward add to the baseline of the state budget, and the budget is tight.  In fact, the Tomblin administration had to figure out how to cut $82 million from this year’s budget and fill a $265 million hole in the budget beginning July 1st.   West Virginia’s economy is not growing fast enough to fill the gap, meaning the Governor and lawmakers will have to find ways to cut and save.  Tomblin proposes a controversial plan of dipping into the state’s Rainy Day fund for $84 million to cover higher Medicaid costs.

–Future Fund:  Senate President Jeff Kessler believes this is the year for his pet project; a plan to set aside a portion of the increase in severance taxes from natural gas drilling into a special interest-bearing fund that would be a continuing source of revenue in the future.  Kessler hopes to at least establish the framework for the Future Fund, with the collections beginning after the state passes through a couple tough budget years.

–Meth: West Virginia has a serious meth problem, not only the abuse of the destructive drug, but also the making of it in dangerous homemade labs.  The state has put in place limits on the amount of pseudoephedrine (the key ingredient in making meth) that can be sold, but some policy makers believe more needs to be done.  Expect a fight over a proposal requiring a doctor’s prescription for certain types of cold medicines that contain pseudoephedrine.

–Gay Rights:  For several years, gay rights supporters have pushed to have sexual orientation included in the state’s hate crime laws.  Last year’s attempt failed when supporters in the House of Delegates couldn’t get enough votes.  The proposal prompts a fight within the Democratic Party because some conservative Democrats either oppose the move or don’t want to cast a tough vote that could hurt them at election time.

–Accountability:  The first five planks of the House Democratic agenda focus on government accountability, and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has called for regular audits of all state agencies, and for good reason.  Consider the following:  a Legislative audit has turned up suspicious lending and spending practices in the state Agriculture Department under former Commissioner Gus Douglass.  A former vice president at Fairmont State University has pleaded guilty to enriching himself by at least $650,000 by misusing a state purchasing card.  Last year, federal investigators uncovered widespread political corruption in Mingo County.

–Curve Ball:  It’s a two-month long session with 134 politicians (not including the Governor and the Board of Public Works); some things are bound to come out of left field.  Stay tuned.

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Comments

  • Fed Up

    The answer to the state's money problem is three easy steps.
    1. Legalize gambling "Done"
    2. Legalize pot "Pending"
    3. Legalize prostitution "Thought"
    Just think of all the tax dollars...

  • pc

    Um, let's see, there is a current need for an extra $84 million for Medicaid. What will it be when WV adds over 100,000 plus more folks, thanks to Gov. BillyBob/Earl Ray, to the Medicaid roles under Obammy Care in a few years and the federal funds for these additional folks begin to decline? Before that happens, folks, how many more of us who are tired of the same-o jackass politics in WV will be doing the Taco Bell "run for the (state) border"??

  • mntnman

    Education, education, education...its the key to everything else. We want jobs -- we need an educated work force. Reduce poverty -- education is the key. Better tax base -- need better jobs which only better educated can fill. Education, education, education. Yeah, that's the ticket...

  • Joe

    So WV is like a garden?

    I think Forrest Gump perfectly described the state years ago......

    WV is like a box of chocolates...,you never know what you're gonna get.

  • TheFungoKnows

    Didn't Gov. ERT transfer over $250 million into the teachers retirement fund a couple of years ago?? That should be their raise for the next decade.
    GREEDY teachers unions will be the ruination of this State. Lets cut some things in the education budget to pay for this. Too many extra-cirricular activities the taxpayers are paying for now. Lets pear down the number of sports activities we have to pay for. We don't need TO PAY FOR cheerleaders and dance teams. We don't need cross country teams, golf teams, tennis teams, track teams. Let those parents of the participants pay for those, if they want them to begin with. Two sports per semester per gender is all the taxpayers should be required to foot the bill for.

  • MickandAllysDad

    It seems the only time pay raises are offered is when the health insurance premiums raise too. Usually the premiums are larger than the raises.

  • Wowbagger

    My question of the day is how did the Governor come up with the highly precise $504.00 number for state employee raises.

    Why not $500, $525, or even $505?

    • Wowbagger

      Got my answer. It seems that $504 is divisible by 24 (pay periods).

      Bottom line: WV legislators are not good at fractions!

  • ShinnstonGuy

    On a different note, I find the debate about Employment and Housing Discrimination to be laughable. The bill has nearly over 60 percent support (last I check, it could be even higher now) to allow gays to work and live without being fired or kicked out of their residence just for being gay. What are the Dems in the legislature afraid of anyway? The people that are against this measure don't vote for them now, and with that level of public support it is not going to hurt them in May/November. Perhaps they need to "grow a pair."

    • MoMoney

      Man, that is at the top of everyone's list of things to do this Legislative session.
      Nobody gives a crap about gay issues in WV. 60%? Hardly. Maybe 1%.

      • ShinnstonGuy

        Sorry if there was confusion, but yes, every poll in which people are asked, "Do you think gays and lesbians should be protected by law against being fired for their sexual orientation, or being kicked out of their house for their sexual orientation?" has resulted in overwhelming positive response. Nationwide the percentage is over 75 yet Congress does nothing, and I believe in West Virginia the percentage is also over 60 percent. I wasn't implying that the legislature was going to do anything about it; I was stating that the public overwhelmingly supports it.

  • ShinnstonGuy

    Hoppy,

    Perhaps you could use a future editorial to help me understand this "Future Fund." In our personal lives, we use our paychecks to pay off bills and take care of any "pressing needs." If we get to a point in which pay is greater than these costs, then a responsible person will set the remainder aside as "savings." Right now West Virginia cannot pay its bills, let alone tackle the pressing needs. How then does Kessler believe he can create a savings account if there is no money to put into it? I understand he may want to "set the framework until budget difficulties are passed," but shouldn't he be tackling those budget difficulties? Time and time again experts have told us to clean up our tax law and enact tort reform. Those are two keys to bringing business to the state, yet they have been ignored for decades. Instead of spending all summer traveling for the "Future Fund," why wasn't Kessler, his staff, or other legislators working on this? Did I miss something?

  • TD

    Where was the proposal on legalizing weed?

    • TheFungoKnows

      It went up in smoke. Gov. ERT is trying to get his mother off of the Greyhound dogs and into the marijuana growing business. Once he has the rules all set up so that his mother and wife get the first licenses to grow pot, then he'll make an announcement.

    • Joe

      Accidentally thrown out with an empty bag of Doritos.

    • Wowbagger

      TD,

      Marijuana would be just like the Casino issue. These Bozos in the legislature would tax it, become dependent on the revenue, and ultimately attract a lot of tourists from Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia.

      Then surrounding states would see it as a big revenue source and legalize it too causing a big hole in the state's budget. Then West Virginia would probably need to appropriate $5 or $10 million to subsidize the pot farms.

      Hmmm...

      Perhaps a new use for Gus Douglass old $5 million friends and family loan program we are just beginning to hear about.
      BTW: The Daily Caller has a lot more details on their web site.

      In all seriousness the only difference between gambling and Marijuana is that West Virginia apparently doesn't have a highly paid, well funded grass lobbyist yet. No worries though when one shows up you are guaranteed to hear about the glories of dope on Talkline before anything passes.

      • Joe

        I heard Jeff Spakola is available. His dad also has an awesome set of tools!

    • CaptainQ

      That will probably be coming under the 'Curve Ball' category, TD. Looking at it from a purely economic standpoint, passing a Colorado style pot law would be a boon to both the state treasury (who would tax it like crazy, no doubt) but also to all of the pot growers in the state.

      Of course, it'd be disasterous for most everyone else, but this idea is SO ridicious, it has a good chance of passing in our state legislature!

  • CaptainQ

    LOVE the ‘news-ala-carte’ approach on your commentary! I will respond in kind with my own opinions:

    –Politics: Hoppy, I have faith in our WV traditions, and WV tradition says that the WV House and WV Senate will remain in Democrat hands FOREVER! This election year may be the best chance the GOP has EVER had to take either chamber of the legislature, but my prediction is, it will NOT happen. There’s still too many ‘generational’ Democratic Party voters out there to allow a GOP takeover of the WV House (let alone the WV Senate) in 2014.

    –Pay Raises: The bottom line on this issue is this: Do WV teachers/service personnel/state workers DESERVE a pay raise? YES!!! Can the state of West Virginia AFFORD to give them a pay raise this year? Probably not, but it’s going to happen anyway. Earl Ray and the Democrat know they need to ‘reward’ one of their most loyal group of followers NOW or risk losing their future support. Pay raises will happen this year, even though the teacher unions will insist they won’t be high enough (as usual).

    –The Budget: Pay raises and increases in spending mean only one thing: HIGHER/NEW TAXES ARE COMING! It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN. Do the ruling Democrats have the guts to go for higher/new taxes this year or will they wait till 2015 to vote them in? Time will tell. My guess is, we’ll all be saying HELLO to a renewed 6% Food Tax, raises in personal tax rates and increased state fees on everything the Legislature can raise them on if not this year, then next year for certain. Who knows? When it comes to new ways to tax us, the ruling Democrats are very creative (remember the Tree Tax and Dog Tax back in the early 90's?)

    –Future Fund: Senate President Jeff Kessler needs to remember one thing about our state government: Good ideas (like this one) NEVER EVER see the light of day under the Capitol Dome. Nuff sed.

    –Meth: Expect Legislative action on this issue soley because fighting drug abuse is popular with the majority of West Virginia voters and THIS is an election year. Might be purely symbolic or cosmetic, but they will pass something on this issue.

    –Gay Rights: My guess is, Lawmakers on BOTH sides of the political divide don’t want to touch this issue with a 1000 foot wooden pole in an election year. No action here in 2014.

    –Accountability: Accountability in WV government? Really? Good luck with that, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey!

    –Curve Ball(s): There will be plenty of those this session. Predictable ones: Move to make the pepperoni roll WV’s official favorite food and yet ANOTHER push by WV lawmakers to FORCE the Fisher Mountain Casino project unto the people of Pendleton County WITHOUT a popular vote (which isn’t fair, but the ones pushing this don’t care). Third time’s a charm, right?

  • WV Guru

    What is a bigger joke that a session of the State Legislature? Two sessions! A good example of Running in Place.

  • susanf1218

    Apparently he is delusional if he thinks "West Virginia's future is bright" and he wants to encourage young people who have left West Virginia to "come home". Unless, of course, he is referring to those who are on welfare and all other manner of public support who want to "come home" or who want to make West Virginia their "home" so that they can reap more benefits. And why would he think taking $84 million out of the Rainy Day fund to pay for increased Medicaid costs is a sound financial decision?? We have heard for years and years that there is no money to give state employees raises but how convenient that the money is there to pay for another giveaway to people who don't contribute anything to improving West Virginia's economy.

    • Hillbilly

      Or homeless.. We have so many social programs and "benefits" for them that homeless people come here from other states all the time, but I do not see them leaving.

    • susanf1218

      Actually, I don't think he even believes the garbage that he was spewing out of his mouth

      • TheFungoKnows

        Susan,
        Do you remember Manchin's old slogan, "Open For Business"??
        Well as we speak, Gov. ERT has ordered new signs with a new slogan to be erected at the state's borders. The new slogan, "The Welfare Offices Are Open!!!"

        • TheFungusBlows

          You should be a comedian Fungo, "The Welfare Offices are Open". Oh my, that is the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. Jeez, I can't believe that! When are you going on tour? That's even better than your first post about all the loser teachers that want a 2% raise. I almost wet myself reading that one. Gosh darn you're hilarious! Please post more often!

      • Wowbagger

        Susan1218,

        Earl Ray is a career politician, of course he doesn't "believe the garbage that he was spewing out of his mouth."

  • Sen. Sam Cann -- Harrison county

    Sen. Sam Cann, D-Harrison, said he is curious how the governor intends on giving pay increase while facing a budget shortfall.

    "I'm all for giving people raises if we can afford them by balancing the budget," Cann said. "We're facing a shortfall in this current year and while we're here we'll have to focus on that."

    West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy Executive Director Ted Boettner said after the speech the state budget is the most important bill passed each year, but Tomblin shared few details about how he plans to deal with the revenue.

    "Instead of continuing to cut taxes that mostly benefit large, out-of-state companies that have put a large hole in our budget, we need to invest in ways to really create jobs, like education, infrastructure, innovation, workforce development and our state's colleges and universities," Boettner said. "Big hikes in tuition will not only make it harder to attend college, but will pile unnecessary debt on the backs of our future workforce."

    • stophating

      We must cut taxes on those with millions or billions, and then they will hire people at minimum wage call centers and we can tax them 40%. After all they can't contribute hundreds of thousands of dollars to either political party---they are useless, except as pawns in the game of million and billionaires---I am just waiting for the USA to be renamed the PSA (Plutocratic States of America)

  • Roads and the Blue Ribbon commission

    The governor mentioned needing good roads and bridges throughout the state, but did not mention a single recommendation of his Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways that has been working over the last year on ways to fund road maintenance,

    • vic

      Roads and the "Pabst Blue Ribbon and Reelection Commission"
      I attended one of the statewide meetings and gave my state legislator and senator a copy of information I obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.
      When I went to work for the WVDOH over 20 years ago, 2 employees were allowed to drive DOH vehicles home. When I retired 2 years ago, there were more than 20 vehicles being driven to and from the district lot on a daily basis.
      Using the FOIA information, I approximated a daily mileage, miles per gallon, price per gallon, and arrived at a nonwork related taxpayer cost per vehicle. By allowing DOH employees to use the vehicles translates into a hefty pay raise for these employees.
      This is just one of the wasteful practices that is going on statewide. I know of another state agency whose office is in Bridgeport. 3 employees who live within 8 miles of each other have 3 taxpayer funded vehicles to drive from their residences on a daily basis, about a 100 mile round trip daily per vehicle.
      Total all of this WASTE statewide and you are talking millions of taxpayer dollars.
      I have yet to hear from my legislators.