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Special session on horizon

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With work on the budget bill wrapped unusually early Tuesday afternoon, House and Senate leaders met with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin attempting to reach agreement for issues for a special session tentatively slated to begin this evening.

House and Senate leaders met with the governor for about 90 minutes beginning at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday and met individually later in the afternoon.

"We don't have an agreement on everything at this point," Tomblin chief of staff Rob Alsop said Tuesday evening. "We're getting close."

Under consideration for a special session call are bills that were lost at the end of the 2013 regular session Saturday. Those bills include authorization for a sales tax-increment financing district to fund a major economic development project near Morgantown, and magistrate pay raises.

The latter bill was lost Saturday when a compromise could not be reached between the House -- which wanted to eliminate a lower pay tier, effectively giving raises to 48 magistrates and staff in smaller counties -- and the Senate, whose plan increased salaries for 10 magistrates and staff.

On Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, said both sides agree that eight magistrates who incurred $6,375 pay cuts Jan. 1 because of population losses in their counties should have their salaries restored to $57,500.

He said the issue to be resolved Tuesday was whether to approve salary increases for the other magistrates now, and then conduct a caseload equalization study; or to do the study first, and determine raises based on the findings of that study.

Also being discussed for the special session is legislation to provide state relief on Workers' Compensation premiums for volunteer fire departments, as well as some supplemental appropriation bills that were not passed as of Saturday.

Completion of work on the 2013-14 state budget by a House-Senate conference committee Tuesday afternoon clears the way to start a special session this evening<co>, if consensus on the agenda can be reached by this morning.<co>

"Hopefully, the leadership will have an agreement with the bills on the call. They have to feel pretty comfortable before it's going to be on a call for tomorrow night," House Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, said Tuesday, after the budget conferees completed work.

White said tight revenue projections made it comparatively easy to reach agreement on the budget bill, since most accounts were generally slightly reduced from the current budget, and were nearly identical in the House and Senate versions of the budget.

"There wasn't a whole lot of wiggle room on a lot of our accounts," he said.

The base budget, which includes about $4.3 billion of revenue from state taxes and Lottery profits, is about $5 million less than the state budget in 2009-10, White said.

Most agencies submitted funding requests featuring 7.5 percent budget cuts, with public education, Health and Human Resources, and public safety agencies exempted.

The Tuesday completion of the budget bill is unusually early. Conferees completed work last year on the Wednesday after the regular session ended, while the work went until the Thursday after the 2010 and 2011 sessions.

In 2009, the legislature recessed for six weeks after the regular session, and passed the budget on May 28.

In the 1990s and 2000s, it generally took the budget conferees six to seven days after the regular session ended to complete work on the budget bill.

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

 


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