Magistrate pay, appropriations bills pass as special session ends
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A special legislative session aimed at enacting bills lost in the final hours of the 2013 regular session concluded Thursday, about 18 hours after it began, with the House's passage of bills for magistrate pay raises (SB1003), and supplemental appropriations (SB1005).
As of Wednesday night, the bills had been at an impasse, as House Republicans blocked a motion to vote on the pay raise bill, and House Democrats subsequently blocked a vote on the appropriations measure -- which contains $1.86 million for the attorney general's office.
On Thursday, the House got the necessary two-thirds majority of votes to take up both bills, and were able to end the special session shortly after noon.
"We had a bill dumped in our laps at 4:30 [p.m.] from the governor that none of us had seen," House Minority Leader Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said of delaying the passage vote on the magistrate pay raise bill.
By Thursday morning, he said, "We absolutely felt that everyone was able to look at all the bills overnight and make an informed decision."
The magistrate pay bill, a compromise on an issue that had been divisive throughout the regular session, will provide pay raises to 12 magistrates and staffs in six counties this year, and will eliminate a lower $51,125 pay tier for magistrates in another 17 small-population counties in January 2017. It also mandates a nonpartisan study of ways to equalize caseloads for magistrates.
The bill passed the House on a partisan 55-39 vote, with 38 of the House's 46 Republicans voting no, with four Republicans absent. House Republicans argued that magistrates should not be singled out for pay raises in a year when the state is forced to make budget cuts.
The pay raise bill died at the end of the regular session Saturday night, along with a bill House leadership was holding as leverage, to authorize a sales tax increment financing district for a multi-million dollar development outside of Morgantown.
"The TIF bill was one of the few pro-jobs bills we advanced this session, and to hold it hostage for a pay raise bill was unconscionable," Armstead said.
In special session, the Morgantown TIF bill (SB1001) won swift approval in both houses Wednesday evening, with a 34-0 vote in the Senate, and by a 91-2 margin in the House.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said Thursday he was confident throughout the process that the TIF bill would pass the Legislature.
"There was never any negative feedback I received about the bill," he said. "It was just a matter that it got hooked into the other issue, and that became a distraction."
Proponents of the 1,400-acre development, which will include a new exit off Interstate 79, a 100,000-square-foot primary care complex for West Virginia University Hospitals, retail space, restaurants, lodging, class A office space, and a $16.2 million ballpark for WVU, say it will provide about 1,100 construction jobs and at least 1,500 permanent positions.
Also passed during the special session Thursday:
• Legislation making the state Tax Division responsible for administering sales tax collections in TIF districts and in cities that have municipal sales taxes through the home-rule pilot project (HB105).
However, Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said he is wary of a provision that allows the state to charge a management fee of up to 5 percent of revenue collected, saying that's 10 times higher than typical charges.
"In my opinion, 5 percent is far too high, and too much of a burden on municipalities," said McCabe, who said a 5 percent fee would cost Charleston $250,000 a year.
• The $17.7 million supplemental appropriation bill (SB1005) that House Democrats had held up Wednesday. Besides providing $1.86 million for technology upgrades for the attorney general's office, the bill transfers $10 million to the governor's civil contingency fund for future disaster response, and $3 million to Health and Human Resources. Part of that appropriation will go to provide court-ordered pay increases for employees at the state's two psychiatric hospitals.
Even after spending an additional day in special session, House Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, called the 2013 legislative session successful, and noted that the extended session actually wrapped up earlier than usual.
"In other years, we've usually had to stay in extended session for six or seven days to get the budget done," he said.
The House and Senate approved the $11.41 billion state spending plan (HB2014) Wednesday evening, four days after the end of the 60-day regular session.Reach Phil Kabler at email@example.com or 304-348-1220.