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Statehouse Beat: Former legislators take state positions

Regarding last week's column item on former legislators who've taken state jobs presumably in order to continue serving the public (and tangentially to pad their state pensions), readers advised of three ex-legislators left off the list, all of whom work for state Treasurer John Perdue:

Danny Ellis, Logan County delegate 1993-96, assistant treasurer, $106,000 salary.

Jeff Davis, Hancock County delegate 1997-2000, local government specialist, $51,456.

Tony Whitlow, Mercer County delegate 1971-74, 1977-84, senator, 1985-96, local government specialist (part-time) $14,400. (Whitlow is part-time, since state pension law allows retired state employees to earn up to $15,000 a year without penalizing their pension payments.)

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Also, a reader pointed out that House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, will get credit for four years' of military service in calculating his state pension. If he stays three years as secretary of Veterans' Assistance ($95,000 salary), that will bump his state pension up another 8 percent, from $34,200 to $41,800 a year.

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Meanwhile, Rick Staton sent along a note pointing out that he actually took a pay cut to become deputy secretary of Military Affairs and Public Safety in March.

He had been Wyoming County prosecuting attorney, with a salary of $92,000 - or $2,000 a year more than his current pay.

Staton also notes (semi-humorously, I think) that he now has the additional cost of commuting to and from Mullens - since he's been unable to find an apartment in Charleston that allows dogs.

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Rumor had it that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey's first class of summer law interns included no West Virginians and no WVU law students. Not quite so...

Our fourth-favorite New Jerseyite (after Bruce Springsteen, Frank Sinatra and Tony Soprano...) did hire one West Virginian and two law students from the U as summer interns.

The full list:

Kaitlyn McKitrick, Wheeling, first-year law student at WVU; Marissa Zielinski, Hamburg N.Y. second-year law student at WVU; Charles Greene, Pembroke, Ga., first-year law student at the University of Virginia; Jared Krecji, St. Paul, Neb., first-year law student at University of Virginia; Andrew Cowens, Huntington Beach, Calif., first-year law student at the University of Texas.

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Meanwhile, regarding the state's struggle to come up with a voter-acceptable way to raise between $400 million and $1.2 billion in new revenue to maintain the state's roadways, the new issue of State Legislatures magazine (published by the National Conference of State Legislatures) features an article entitled "Pain at the Pump," showing how gas-tax collections in all 50 states are insufficient to keep up with demand for road construction and maintenance.

An excerpt: "It's not just that cars are using less gas. In most states, the same flat cents-per-gallon amount is collected on a gallon of gas year after year, despite inflation and climbing construction costs. Also, most states haven't raised their gas taxes in years, or even decades. State gas taxes are now a smaller part of American household expenses than they have been in about 80 years - on average, about $115 per vehicle per year."

It indicates that at least 18 states have studied or introduced bills to convert to a per-mile user fee, but no state has done so, although Oregon has had two user fee pilot projects.

(The same issue also notes that Utah has become the fifth state to prohibit smoking in cars with children inside, punishable by a $45 fine, which can be waived if the violator agrees to enroll in a smoking cessation program.

Personally, I think it should constitute felony child endangerment, but since West Virginia legislators can't even pass statewide indoor smoking regulations, I doubt we'll be the sixth state to enact such legislation...)

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Compared to his predecessor, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has been practically aerophobic when it comes to use of the state planes.

However, Tomblin has been flying around in the King Air comparatively frequently in the past month, primarily to re-enact ceremonial bill signings.

That includes: April 30 to Morgantown, to fake-sign the Morgantown tax increment financing bill; May 8 to Martinsburg for fake Feed to Achieve and fake Commuter Rail acts; Wednesday to Clarksburg for re-enactments of bills on boat dock safety and management of concussions in high school sports; and on Thursday to Wheeling (with Chief Justice Brent Benjamin) to reenact signing the prison overcrowding legislation in Brooke County.

(As you might guess, I'm not a big fan of ceremonial bill signings...)

Tomblin also flew to Clarksburg on May 10 for a sesquicentennial announcement.

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Finally, speaking of the sesquicentennial, I was reminded that one of the highlights of the centennial in 1963 was President John F. Kennedy's address from the steps of the Capitol.

Alas, there are no plans to have President Barack Obama participate in the sesquicentennial. Then again, President Woodrow Wilson didn't attend the state Golden Jubilee ... although he may have been preoccupied with preparations for the 1913 Gettysburg Reunion.

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


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