The Mountain State’s TRUSTED news source.

Click here to stay informed and subscribe to The Charleston Gazette-Mail.

Click #isupportlocal for more information on supporting our local journalists.


Learn more about HD Media

Statehouse Beat: Budget special session cost $600,000

 

Total cost for the recent 17-day slog of a special session on the budget come out to $599,610, excluding a few stragglers who haven’t turned in expenses yet.

That works out to $35,271 a day — or pretty close to the $35,000 a day estimate the Gazette-Mail was using on its daily “countdown to shutdown” box.

Total House of Delegates costs were $430,281, with $236,150 in per-day pay and $194,131 in expenses ($131 a day for meals and lodging, or $55 a day for meals for commuting legislators, plus mileage at 54 cents a mile.)

Total Senate costs were $169,329, with $87,650 for per-day pay and $81,679 for expenses.

Senate President Bill Cole, R-Mercer, had the highest tab of any legislator, at $8,335, including $5,100 in per-day pay. (State law provides that the president and House speaker get $300 a day special session pay, double the $150 a day for other members, maybe because they have to stand during floor sessions. Majority and minority leaders in both houses get an extra $50 a day. That all seems a bit unfair since the House and Senate Finance chairmen worked the hardest during the session, but still got the base, $150 a day rate.)

House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, also had $5,100 in per-day pay, but in keeping with tradition for legislators from Kanawha County, did not accept expense money. Armstead said he will donate his session pay to flood relief efforts in his district, which includes Clendenin and Elkview.

On an individual level, most of the special session tabs averaged from the mid-$4,000 to mid-$5,000 range, with most legislators from the panhandles exceeding $6,000 each because of higher mileage reimbursements.

(Some media used a figure of $39,000 a day for special session costs, but that figure failed to consider that not all legislators attend every day of a special session, or the legislators who do not claim expenses.)

nnn

In addition to the Kanawha delegation (which counts Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, as a member), legislators who either opted out of or have not filed for expenses include Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone; and Delegates Jordan Hill, R-Nicholas; Tim Manchin, D-Marion; and Doug Reynolds, D-Wayne.

nnn

For those who would contend the special session amounted to legislators getting rewarded for failing to complete their work in the allotted regular session time, recall that in order to get paid in special session, legislators must have at least one roll call vote on the House and Senate floor each day.

On days with no votes on legislation pending, the House conducted roll call votes to ascertain a quorum on eight of the 17 days, while the Senate had roll call votes on motions to adjourn on nine days.

Had the houses eschewed roll calls on those days, the savings would have been over $150,000.

nnn

The outpouring of assistance following the June 23 floods was a reminder that West Virginians are an especially generous and kind-hearted people.

Political observers note that Jim Justice’s stature particularly rose during the flood recovery efforts.

Justice’s response was impeccable — placing the safety and welfare of residents in the flood areas ahead of personal concerns, canceling the Greenbrier Classic PGA tournament, closing The Greenbrier to paying guests and opening it free-of-charge to anyone displaced by flooding, establishing a Neighbors Loving Neighbors relief fund, and temporarily suspending his gubernatorial campaign.

While there might have been a bit of political expediency to Justice’s actions, he showed a level of empathy and leadership that you can’t fake with a couple of photo ops in the flood zones.

nnn

Meanwhile, the flooding should be an important lesson to those legislators who wanted to raid the state Rainy Day fund to the tune of $183 million to balance the “smoke and mirrors” budget bill that Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin vetoed back on June 3, emphasizing the folly of using emergency reserve funds to close funding gaps for day-to-day expenses.

While Tomblin deserves credit for wisely preventing the raid, some legislators were grumbling about his veto in April of an Armstead-sponsored bill that would have allowed state employees to be granted paid leave to provide emergency services or disaster relief during declared states of emergency. The bill passed both houses unanimously.

Tomblin’s objection was that the bill would have allowed the employees’ agencies to take up to $300,000 a year out of the governor’s civil contingency fund to pay for the paid leave, something he said would sidestep executive authority and could be abused.

nnn

Finally, as every family knows, when household finances are the tightest, that’s the time when the transmission goes out, the water heater starts leaking, or some other unexpected major expense arises.

So it is with the state, where major water damage has been observed on one of the panels of the interior dome of the Capitol.

The state has brought in WDP & Associates of Charlottesville, Virginia, a consulting engineering firm that specializes in investigating structural problems, to assess the situation.

Administration spokeswoman Diane Holley Brown said General Services Division engineers suspect damage from freeze and thaws during extremely cold weather two winters ago.

Late last week, WDP workers were putting up scaffolding on the east side of the colonnade level of the exterior dome to determine the source of the water leak.

Cost of repairs? In 1996, the last time the interior dome was repaired and restored, the price tag was $1.4 million.

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

Recommended for you