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Statehouse beat: State has over a billion in reserve

Legislators shouldn't have been surprised by Auditor Glen Gainer's budget report showing that the state has nearly $1.5 billion put away in reserve accounts, budget surplus, as well as more than $350 million in unexpended reappropriations.

Proportionally, the Legislature has been one of the leaders at socking away money, according to figures from the auditor's office.

Between the House, Senate and Joint Expenditures, the Legislature has $75.7 million put away for a rainy day (or rainy season), equal to 305 percent of its $24.8 million budget for 2013-14.

Most of the Legislature's money -- $55.7 million -- is in what is called the TRAFFIC account, a contingency fund that, like the state's $912.88 million in Rainy Day funds, could be tapped into in the event a natural and/or financial disaster caused a serious downturn in state tax collections.

The Senate is sitting on $27.9 million in unexpended reappropriations, including a total of $10.97 million in funds for member and employee compensation, $5 million for current expenses, and $3.58 million for members' expenses.

(That's more than four times the Senate's annual operating budget of $6.4 million.)

The House, by comparison, only has $7.05 million socked away, with about $2.3 million for member and employee compensation, $2.89 million for current expenses, and $2 million for members' expenses.

That's not quite equal with the House's $9.4 million annual operating budget.

In addition to the TRAFFIC account, the Legislature has about $5 million squirreled away in its Joint Expenses account, including $2.09 million in the legislative computer system account.

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That most state agencies and departments have money in accounts that sit unexpended and roll over year after year is probably one reason Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's proposed $75 million in cuts in the 2013-14 budget hasn't caused great howls of protest.

Of course, the governor's office itself has $27.67 million put away in various accounts, including $24.9 million in the governor's civil contingency fund.

Actually, the civil contingency fund had a balance of $32.4 million when the budget year began July 1, 2012, but the fund tends to shrink a little in election years -- those giant checks handed out around the state have to be paid for from someplace.

(In 2000, then-Gov. Cecil Underwood not only tapped into contingency funds, but basically depleted them, handing out nearly $16 million in grants and awards in his ill-fated re-election bid.)

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The Department of Health and Human Resources has the most money in unexpended reappropriations, at $64.24 million. Then again, with annual general revenue appropriations at about $1 billion, it's second only to public education in terms of state expenditures.

About $25.86 million of that is from various institutional facilities operations accounts surpluses. Odd, didn't the DHHR recently settle a lawsuit for failing to give court-ordered pay raises to employees at the state's two psychiatric hospitals?

The Development Office has $28.58 million put away in various economic development assistance accounts that can be used to lure new business to the state.

The Department of Agriculture has $9.9 million squirreled away, with $6.19 million of that in funds for soil conservation projects.

Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, who last week asked the Legislature for $1.85 million in supplemental appropriations, inherited $385,135 in various surplus reappropriations.

And, another relatively small agency that has more than a year's worth of operating expenses put away in unexpended reappropriations is the Division of Protective Services, the Capitol Complex police force.

Protective Services has $3.79 million in reserve, with $3.44 million in various unclassified accounts. With an annual operating budget of $2.3 million, that would be enough to keep DPS going for more than a year and a half.

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Finally, that the sales tax TIF bill for the University Town Centre (SB125) development appears to be fast-tracked is good news not only for the greater Morgantown area, but for Charleston as well.

Part of the development will be a $15 million ballpark for the West Virginia University baseball team, and according to news reports, for the Pittsburgh Pirates' affiliate in the New York-Penn League, a short-season Class A league.

Besides becoming the fourth professional baseball team in West Virginia, at a level above Rookie League teams in Bluefield and Princeton, and a level below the full-season Class A West Virginia Power, it would create a symbolic link between the state's pre-eminent cities.

With the Power also being a Pirates' affiliate, there would be a connection between Morgantown and Charleston, with players regularly being promoted and demoted between the two teams.

Conversely, Power fans will be able to make the short road trip north to scout next season's prospects, and Morgantown team fans will be able to drive south to see their former players competing at the next level.

Since we have the Power in Charleston, maybe the Morgantown ball club could be named the Glory ...

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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