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Statehouse Beat: Taxpayers will pay most of 150th birthday tab

With the state's 150th birthday festivities fast approaching, the question has come up about who is footing the bill for all the Sesquicentennial activities.

As usual, it's taxpayers, mostly.

The Legislature made three $100,000 appropriations to the state Sesquicentennial Commission in the fiscal 2010, 2011, and 2012 budgets.

According to Chelsea Ruby, commission executive director and special assistant in the Governor's Office, the commission has awarded $233,171 of that total in grants to various local groups statewide for Sesquicentennial events.

The four-day 150th birthday celebration at the Capitol has a budget of $133,000, Ruby said. (Which may explain why the main concert event is Lonestar and Ronnie Milsap, and not, say, Lady Antebellum and Brad Paisley.)

There are also 33 corporate sponsors to make up the difference, although some are in-kind contributions.

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Actually, under the 2009 law creating the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission, there should be a much more detailed public record outlining commission finances and actions.

One of the requirements in the statute is that the commission must submit an annual report to the governor and the Legislature at the start of each legislative session, outlining activities of the previous year, including fundraising, grants awarded, etc.

At this point, there should have been four reports submitted, with the most recent due this past February.

Total number of reports actually produced by the commission: zero.

I've written frequently about the stormy history of the Sesquicentennial Commission, which had a major parting of the ways in 2011, when about half the commissioners, wanting to emphasize history and academic issues, resigned in a feud with Education and the Arts Secretary Kay Goodwin and Culture and History Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, who favored using Sesquicentennial grants for parades, Civil War re-enactments, festivals and other tourist-friendly events.

It's not clear who dropped the ball on submitting annual reports, although the blame ultimately rests with the commission chairwoman - in this case, Goodwin.

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Speaking of dropping the ball: After reaching its conclusion that the state needs to raise an additional $400 million to $1.3 billion a year to adequately maintain state roadways, the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways seems to have gone into hiding.

The commission is supposed to hold six public hearings around the state this month to get feedback on road funding options, prior to a June 27 meeting at which it is to finalize recommendations to submit to the governor, tentatively due July 1.

That will be a tall order, since it's already June 9 and no hearing dates have been set, and much of next week will be occupied by Sesquicentennial events and a state holiday.

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After being unable to meet in May for lack of a quorum, the Ethics Commission has been assured by the Governor's Office that the top priority for gubernatorial appointments is to fill the three vacancies on the 12-member panel.

Commissioners also will ask the administration to pursue legislative changes so that more of the commission members can be "at-large" appointments.

"It takes a Philadelphia lawyer to vet somebody, because they have so many restrictions on the commissioners," Chairman Kemp Morton noted.

Currently, two members must be ex-legislators; along with two former state employees; a former elected county, municipal or school board official; a former county, municipal or school board employee; two ex-members of county or municipal boards or public service districts, and four at-large members.

Additionally, no more than seven commissioners may be from the same political party, and commissioners cannot hold any elected or appointed government office, or be a candidate for office (Frank Deem had to resign from the commission when he made an ill-conceived attempt to run for his old Senate seat in 2012), be a lobbyist, a political party official, or participate in a political campaign.

So, it's like a Rubik's Cube to get all the appointments together properly, and on top of that, a quorum is seven commissioners, regardless of how many vacancies there may be.

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Finally, Friends of the Cardinal will be conducting its annual cleanup of the Charleston station Wednesday evening, so I thought I'd give them this plug in lieu of actually showing up to help out.

It's important to try to make a good first impression on the 10,000 or so passengers who board or de-train in Charleston each year, as well as the roughly 100,000 other Cardinal passengers who pass through town (ridership that is bound to increase with the opening of the Summit Bechtel Scout Reserve this summer).

However, in my limited amount of travel (aboard the Cardinal, Crescent, City of New Orleans, Silver Star, Capitol Limited, northeast corridor, California Zephyr), Charleston may be the only stop I'm aware of that lacks a station sign.

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

 


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