CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With chances of passage for the Tomblin administration's bill to make 15 percent cuts in various Lottery subsidies (HB4333) looking dire to hopeless, the Legislature will need to find a way to fill the $39.12 million that legislation would have moved into General Revenue.
The fate of bill (HB4333) was sealed at a House of Delegates public hearing earlier this month, when a parade of county and municipal officials, as well as greyhound and thoroughbred racing interests, said the 15 percent cuts would be devastating. (One administration official confided he'd never seen a legislative public hearing with so many speakers, all in opposition to a bill.)
House Government Organization Chairman Jim Morgan, D-Cabell, quipped that his bill to raise the state sales tax by a percent (HB4456) has more votes in the House than the Lottery cuts.
However, without passage of the Lottery bill, the Legislature will find itself $39.12 million short of balancing the 2014-15 budget, which means another round of spending cuts, or perhaps tapping deeper into the Rainy Day emergency revenue funds than the $83.83 million Tomblin has proposed.
Advocates of raising the state cigarette tax, currently among the nation's lowest at 55 cents a pack, see a glimmer of opportunity with the current scenario, with tobacco being the most palatable tax hike option in an election year.
Speaking of Lottery, the Lottery Commission continued hearings last week of faux fraternals -- where Limited Video Lottery operators set up and manage 10-machine video gaming parlors through management contracts with fraternal organizations (predominately fraternal orders of police).
Lottery Commission Director John Musgrave said the commission plans to interview nine fraternal groups by the end of the month, and will then call some of the LVL operators regarding the arrangements. After that, he said commissioners will set a meeting to determine what action will be taken.
"They're all just turn-key operations," he said. "They were solicited by the operator, who signed them up, and takes care of everything."
Another common denominator, Musgrave said, is that the fraternal organizations interviewed indicated that they are either losing money or not making very much money out of the LVL club arrangements.
Add Delegate Bill Hartman, D-Randolph, to the list of incumbent Democrats that Republican National Committeeman Kris Warner tried to convince to change parties.
Hartman said Warner met with him last fall in Elkins.
Apparently, the pitch for Hartman was the same as for Delegate Larry Williams, D-Preston: If he switched parties, the GOP would assure he would have no opposition in the primary, and the national party would provide financial support in the General Election.
"I told him I had no intentions of changing parties, and had never expressed any interest in doing so," Hartman said.
Like Williams, Hartman is a conservative who lives in a district where Republicans have a reasonable chance of winning election.