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Secretary of State's Office returns $3M to W.Va.'s coffers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Secretary of State Natalie Tennant's office is returning $3 million to the West Virginia Legislature, after enacting cost-saving measures and settling two lawsuits for significantly less money than expected.

Tennant recently notified Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss that her office would be returning the unused special revenue funds.

"There was no reason to keep this money if I didn't have the spending authority," Tennant said Thursday. "This is what the citizens ask of elected officials -- to be good stewards of their money."

House Speaker Tim Miley said he plans to talk about the unused $3 million with Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and Sen. President Jeff Kessler at a meeting next week.

"It's rare that an elected official would return excess funds to be re-appropriated as part of the budgetary process during the [next] legislative session," Miley said. "We'll look at how we can use these unused funds for the benefit of the state."

Earlier this year, Tennant's office settled a lawsuit over West Virginia's election laws for $765,000, far less than the expected $2.5 million payout. The Center of Individual Freedom and West Virginians for Life sued the state in 2008, alleging that rules requiring financial disclosures for election-related ads violated their free speech rights. Tennant inherited the lawsuit from former Secretary of State Betty Ireland.

Tennant's office plans to close out a second lawsuit for about $60,000 -- also less than budgeted. That lawsuit, filed by a political group called Stay the Course, challenged the state's limits on campaign contributions and a policy addressing corporate spending.

"The bill didn't come in as high as we thought it was," Tennant said.

In her Sept. 4 letter to Kiss, Tennant also listed steps her office has taken to reduce costs.

Those measures include sending out postcards instead of letters to remind businesses and organizations about filing deadlines. Her office also now notifies other state agencies about filings electronically, and no longer issues a paper copy of a monthly corporations report. The changes saved about $100,000 last year, Tennant said.

"It saved us labor costs and time," she said.

The Business and Licensing Division has reduced costs by changing an antiquated refund system, Tennant told Kiss in the letter. Because of those savings the office lowered "late fees" for businesses and nonprofits that miss filing deadlines, she said.

Tennant said her office also is now processing business registration applications and licenses -- forms previously handled by the state Tax Department.

"We now handle the paperwork here, so they don't also have to go to the Tax Department," Tennant said. "This is government working hand in hand and working efficiently.

 Tennant said she isn't sure how state lawmakers would redistribute the $3 million. She said she would offer suggestions, if asked.

"I'm a fiscal hawk," she said. "This was just more money than I had spending authority for."

Reach Eric Eyre at ericeyre@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4869.


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