Statehouse Beat: Money squirreled away by state agencies

In a year when the Legislature had to beg, borrow, raid and transfer funds to get the 2014-15 state budget to balance, in a year when groups had to rally at the Capitol to restore $1.06 million in cuts to family resource and social service programs, and when Tourism and Commerce struggled to come up with funding for a modest $2.5 million post-water crisis advertising campaign for state tourism, one might think the state is flat out of revenue.

However, just as every household has money squirreled away in the cookie jar or sock drawer, state agencies keep a good bit of money in reserve.

Going into the new budget year, state government has general revenue reserve funds of just more than $390 million — equal to about 9 percent of the general revenue budget — and special revenue reserve funds in excess of $78.28 million.

That’s through the magic of accounts where any unspent funds are reappropriated into the next budget year. In some cases, the funds have rolled over for a decade or longer.

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The best known reappropriated account is probably the governor’s Civil Contingency Fund, a fund that can be tapped into quickly in the event of emergencies or natural disasters. It is at $22.85 million.

However, the governor’s office operating budget account also has $2.73 million in reserves, with $2 million of that being in a Jobs Fund account that has been untouched since it was appropriated in 2005.

Among the other statewide elected officers, the Department of Agriculture has the largest reserves, at $3.38 million (or about 31 percent of its operating budget), while the Soil Conservation Committee has $6.5 million in reserves.

The fastest-growing reserve fund would go to the attorney general’s office, which has nearly quadrupled in the past year, growing to $3.99 million.

That includes a $1.71 million reserve in the personal services account, and $911,990 in the criminal convictions/habeas corpus appeals account. Building up for 2016?

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Once again, the Legislature itself has horded away some of the largest reserves of cash.

The Senate has reserves totaling $28.77 million — or enough to cover the Senate’s total operating budget, salaries, and expenses for about 4 1/2 years.

That includes $5.06 million in its current expenses and contingency fund, $2.71 million in the repairs and alterations fund, $3.03 million for computer systems, and $3.59 million for members’ expenses.

By comparison, the House of Delegates has a reserve of just $8.03 million, or only about 85 percent of its annual operating budget.

That includes $2.24 million in the current expenses and contingency fund, $2.86 million for members’ expenses, $1.23 million for compensation of officers and employees, and $1.44 million for members’ compensation.

Meanwhile, legislative Joint Expenses has shrunk to $24.95 million, after the Legislature in March raided the Joint Committee’s TRAFFIC account (the Legislature’s emergency fund) to balance last year’s budget, taking it down to $20.65 million from a peak of $50 million.

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Six state agencies have reserve funds that are larger than their annual budgets, topped by the state Development Office, with $22.82 million in reserve, compared to a $19.34 million budget.

Among other accounts, the Development Office is sitting on $13.6 million for Local Economic Development Assistance grants.

The other agencies are Military Affairs and Public Safety office of the secretary, Public Port Authority, Aeronautics Commission, Division of Protective Services and the Budget Office.

(Thanks to the latter for running the reappropriations report on the old FEMS computer system during the wvOasis state super computer phase-in. The launch of Phase C of wvOasis reminded me of Y2K: after all the hype, the lack of any major complications was a tad disappointing.)

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Finally, for all the hullabaloo over Democratic Party voter registrations falling (one-tenth of 1 percent) below 50 percent this year, there’s a very simple explanation that has nothing to do with seismic shifts in ideology: Beginning in 2008, Democrats opened their primary elections to independent voters.

That year, Democrats accounted for about 55.5 percent of registered voters, Republicans, 29.3 percent, and independents, 13.9 percent.

Prior to 2008, independents could either sit at home or vote in the Republican primary, which meant they were effectively disenfranchised in those parts of the state where the Democratic primary is the de facto election.

It’s no wonder the percentage of independents has grown to 21 percent, while Democrats have fallen to 49.9 percent (while Republicans also dropped to 28.7 percent).

Independents enjoy the luxury of opting to vote in whichever major party primary has the most significant or interesting races in their particular districts.

Unless you have some particularly strong allegiance to one party or another, it simply makes sense to register independent. If the Democrats went back to closed primaries, their registration numbers would undoubtedly creep back up.

Reach Phil Kabler at or 304-348-1220.

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