Senator Jeff Kessler from Tuesday's Talkline
The President of the West Virginia Senate says the top priority for the 2013 Regular Legislative Session will be balancing the state budget.
“There’s going to be some belt tightening and some cutting and a little bit of pain in this budget, I’m sure, but I’m confident we will get it done,” Senator Jeff Kessler, a Democrat from Marshall County, said on Tuesday’s MetroNews Talkline.
Because of the projected budget shortfalls, which could be in the millions of dollars, he says there will likely be no across the board pay raises for state workers in the coming year.
“It’s going to be tough this year. I’m not optimistic that’s in the works,” Senator Kessler said when asked about pay raise possibilities.
“There may be some targeted things that can be done for select areas that desperately need some help, but across the board for all state employees, I don’t see that happening this year.”
Senator Kessler says the state budget is taking hits from downturns in the coal industry along with steep drop offs in gaming revenues, primarily from the state’s racetracks which are dealing with increased competition from other states.
“We’re going to have some difficult decisions to make. But we’ve been through these (tough budget times) before, particularly with the cyclical nature of the energy markets, it’s not uncommon,” he said.
“We’ll get through this thing.”
In addition to budget matters, Senator Kessler says his other priorities during the 2013 session include prison overcrowding, the criminal sentence structure and ways to reduce the number of kids living in poverty in the Mountain State.
This year, Senator Kessler says, could also be the year for major education reforms.
“I think it’s going to be an interesting debate and I think you’re going to see some real efforts and ultimate successful legislation that does make some positive changes,” he said.
Because this year is a gubernatorial election year, the 60 day regular session will not fully begin until Wednesday, February 13th.
The Legislature will convene briefly on Wednesday to select leaders before recessing for 30 days.
Senator Kessler is expected to again be selected to lead the Senate. House of Delegates Speaker Rick Thompson will also likely get another term.