CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It used to be that spring was the time when a young reporter's fancy turned to pursuing the legislative Budget Digest.
For more than 40 years, the digest was released in late spring, a document that directed state agencies to spend a portion of their budget appropriations for fairs, festivals, parks, playgrounds and other voter-friendly community projects in the legislators' hometowns and districts.
Alas, in 2006, the Legislature voted to kill off the digest, the victim of three lawsuits in 15 years challenging the legality of the post-Budget Bill spending directives, and also a victim of its own success.
After a Gazette series in 1991 publicizing and detailing the digest process, lawmakers were inundated each year with tens of millions of dollars of funding requests from constituents, far exceeding the $20 million to $35 million a year of funds that could be skimmed off the top of state agency budgets to fund digest items.
However, funding for hometown projects and events didn't go away, it just went underground a bit.
(For all the complaints about the Budget Digest, it was a fairly transparent process. The digest was a public document, and all legislators' funding requests were on file for public review.)
These days, instead of the Budget Digest, legislators make funding requests through the Governor's Community Participation Program. That adds an extra step to the process, since final approval of the funding comes from the governor's office. (Technically, that was also true with the Budget Digest, although governors were hard-pressed to deny funding for projects already listed as approved in the digest.)
Legislators have complained that then-Gov. Joe Manchin was tight when it came to approving CPP funding requests, and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is tighter still. However, this being an election year, the spigot may open a bit.
Through the first nine months of the 2011-12 budget year, the governor's office has approved CPP grants totaling $5,177,450 -- which is a far cry from the allocations in the Budget Digests, which peaked at $39.12 million in 1998.
(Keep in mind, though, that some things that used to be delineated in the digest are now written into the Budget Bill itself. For example, the 2012-13 budget features 11 pages of text detailing spending for $2.06 million in the Fairs and Festivals line item under the Division of Education and the Arts.)