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Statehouse Beat: Shifting money to Road Fund is going down a slippery slope

Monday’s one-day resumption of the special session had the feel of a conference where the keynote speaker is running late, and the emcee has to ad-lib for 20 minutes: It was all time-filler.

The day’s agenda included legislation moving another $54 million of unappropriated tax revenue to the state Road Fund for secondary road repairs, which as they say in Pittsburgh, is going down a slippy slope.

Over the years, governors and legislatures have been reticent to use general revenue money for the Road Fund because — as we’ve seen recently — the expense of road building and maintenance is so extreme and the demands from years of deferred maintenance are so great, that once you break the precedent and start putting tax dollars into Highways, it can easily suck up massive amounts of funding, to the detriment of programs that rely on general revenue funds.

Of course, this governor and this Legislature aren’t concerned about potential long-term harm to these programs — they’re under the gun to get as many roads fixed as possible before Nov. 3, 2020.

(To put the $54 million in perspective, a Huffington Post analysis has found that transportation and security costs for Donald Trump‘s golf outings have topped $102 million.)

The other big agenda item involved fixing 14 of the 30 regular session bills that Gov. Jim Justice vetoed, with most of the re-dos to fix technical errors in the bills.

The most common goof-up cited in the veto message was title errors.

Without getting too deep into the minutia, at the top of each bill is the title, a summary of everything the bill does, including listing what sections of state law it changes and/or what new sections of state Code it creates.

Bill titles can be as short as one sentence, while the title on the Senate’s omnibus public school privatization act (Senate Bill 451) ran longer than three pages.

What happens too frequently is that when there are last-minute amendments, particularly floor amendments on the final nights, in the frenzy, staff attorneys will either forget to amend the title to reflect the changes, or will put in the wrong code citations.

Old timers will tell you that back when amendments had to be typed and literally cut and pasted into bills, this almost never happened. The comparative ease of editing and transitory nature of images on computer screens makes slip-ups more commonplace these days.

Monday’s re-dos amounted to about 5 percent of the bills passed in the regular session.

If you’re a worker in a widget factory, and 5 percent of the widgets you produce end up getting rejected for defects, most likely, the boss doesn’t pay you a bonus to come in and fix your mistakes. What most likely happens is that the boss hands you a pink slip.

•••

The most interesting development of the one-day resumption of the special session, and one that bodes well for opponents of a second try to pass a omnibus education bill, was House Speaker Roger Hanshaw‘s decision to break the House up into four select committees to consider all of the education bills.

While going through the committee process doesn’t necessarily sync up well with the concept of a short, concise special session, it also signals that House leadership doesn’t intend to ram through legislation without some measure of analysis and review.

To that end, the Legislature’s repeal of the state’s prevailing wage law in 2016 could be a cautionary tale.

When they took charge of the House and Senate in 2015, Republicans’ top priorities were passage of a right to work law, and repeal of the state prevailing wage law.

(That’s vintage Koch brothers playbook: Paying employees a living wage can make it really challenging to produce record profits.)

On prevailing wage, leadership relied on heresay and hyperbole — “we’ll be able to build five schools for the price of three” — and repeatedly rejected calls for studies, or even fiscal notes, to analyze the costs and benefits of either keeping or repealing prevailing wage rates.

Three years since the outright repeal of prevailing wage in 2016, the state’s construction trades unions commissioned a data-driven academic study, “The Impact of Repealing West Virginia’s Prevailing Wage Law,” which confirmed what we’ve suspected: Cost savings on major construction projects have been negligible, while apprenticeships have plunged and on-the-job injuries have jumped.

Certainly, it is obvious the state hasn’t seen the $200 million to $300 million a year of savings from repealing prevailing wage, as was hyped.

While not as easily quantifiable, the report cited evidence of increases in shoddy construction, project completion delays, and more bids going to out-of-state contractors with less-than-stellar reputations and job histories.

Had the Legislature conducted that kind of study in 2015 and 2016, perhaps it would not have been so quick to repeal. (Then again, there were members hell-bent on taking out prevailing wage, so a thorough, data-driven study may not have held much sway.)

There’s no question West Virginia public schools have myriad issues. We have low test scores, underperforming schools, difficulties finding and retaining certified teachers in STEM classes.

However, those problems didn’t develop overnight, and won’t be resolved before school starts again this fall. While there is an urgency to address the problems, it doesn’t have to be done hastily, without adequate study and input from experts, as we’ve come to learn occurred with prevailing wage.

•••

Finally, I thought I was a cool customer back in the summer between high school graduation and my first semester at the U, when coming out of closing shift at McDonald’s, I was held up at gunpoint. The would-be robbers mistook me for the night manager, whom they mistakenly thought would be carrying the night’s receipts with him.

Once police arrived — the manager called the cops after realizing my car had not left the lot — and after giving a statement, I went home and promptly went to bed.

However, my coolness under pressure apparently was nothing compared to that displayed by state Supreme Court spokeswoman Jennifer Bundy (and relayed to me by the Gazette-Mail’s own Lacie Pierson).

Lacie was in Judge Carrie Webster‘s courtroom waiting for a hearing on an unrelated matter when a sentencing hearing got underway for Quashawn McCauley, who had been convicted of armed robbery.

McCauley was convicted of robbing Bundy at gunpoint last fall after she had parked in an alley near the Clay Center, a robbery that she evidently negotiated down to giving him $25.

At the sentencing hearing, Bundy gave a victim impact statement in which she said she forgave McCauley, and said she wasn’t particularly frightened while being robbed at gunpoint (it turned out to be a BB-gun), given the stress she had been under the previous two years working for then-Chief Justice Allen Loughry.

Bundy told Webster, “Any day working for Justice Loughry was worse than getting robbed.”

(Along those lines, perhaps nights of emptying traps full of burning hot grease from the hamburger grill had hardened me against someone with a gun threatening to blow my head off…)

Handing down the sentence, Webster commented, “I can’t imagine how bad her year must have been if this didn’t shake her to her core.”

With good behavior, McCauley will be out in 10 years, Loughry out in two. Perhaps one day, the two ex-cons can get together and reminisce about the one person they have in common.

Have a good Memorial Day weekend, all.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-1220 or follow @PhilKabler on Twitter.

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Funerals for Saturday, August 24, 2019

Barron, Dennis - 11 a.m., Airborne Church, Martinsburg.
Baylor, Elizabeth - 1 p.m., Snodgrass Funeral Home, South Charleston.
Bonds Jr., Patrick - 1 p.m., King of Glory International Ministries, Charleston.
Burgess, Corey - 5 p.m., Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Burns, Helen - 11 a.m., Stump Funeral Home & Cremation, Inc., Grantsville.
Caldwell, Gary - 6 p.m., Long & Fisher Funeral Home, Sissonville.
Casto, Carroll - 1 p.m., Raynes Funeral Home, Eleanor.
Casto, Roger - 2 p.m., Chapman Funeral Home, Winfield.
Duty, Fred - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.
Fisher, Bernard - 2 p.m., Waybright Funeral Home, Ripley.
Gwinn, Lloyd - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Habjan, Nathan - 1 p.m., Wilson-Smith Funeral Home, Clay. 
Hall, Daniel - Noon, Witcher Baptist Church.
Hinkle, Ethel - Noon, Church of Christ, Craigsville.  
Hoffman, Bruce - 2 p.m., Foglesong - Casto Funeral Home, Mason.  
Kinder, Siegel - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.
Kyler, Virgil - 11 a.m., Pleasant Grove Cemetery, Reedy.
Palmer, William - 1 p.m., Barlow Bonsall Funeral Home, Charleston. 
Raynes Sr., Steven - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Oak Hill.
Truman, James - 2 p.m., Newton Baptist Church, Newton.
Turner, Keith - Noon, Full Gospel Assembly,  Huntington. 
Webb, Antoinette - 11 a.m., SS Peter and Paul Catholic Church, Oak Hill.
Wilson, Greg - Noon, Roach Funeral Home, Gassaway.
Withrow, James - 1 p.m., Cooke Funeral Home Chapel, Cedar Grove.