CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With two weeks remaining in the 2014 regular session, the biggest issue and biggest quandary -- now, as 6 1/2 weeks ago -- remains figuring out a way to balance the 2014-15 state budget.
Two events last week officially made things tougher: The declaration of the House Democratic caucus of no support for any tax increases, and a letter from the governor received Friday declaring that the shortfall on 2013-14 tax collections will, in fact, be bigger than the $60 million estimate used to come up with the proposed budget bill.
Given the funding uncertainties, including doubt about passage of the bill to cut Lottery subsidies (HB4333), and frayed tempers in the House of Delegates, this might be a good year to borrow a page from Joe Manchin: In 2009, then-Gov. Manchin postponed the House-Senate budget conference to May to get a more precise handle on that year's budget crunch.
As a rule of thumb, writing laws to the person rather than the office is bad public policy, whether it be attempts by Democrats to rein in Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, or back in the day by pro-business legislators to put the screws to then-Attorney General Darrell McGraw.
While the current Attorney General Ethics and Accountability Act (HB4490) got the Swiss cheese treatment on the House floor Friday, a section that remains to restrict the attorney general's ability to hire private attorneys as assistant attorneys general is almost identical to a 2006 bill intended to impose the same restrictions on McGraw.
The 2006 bill made it to third reading on the House floor, with amendments pending, before it was tabled. Unlike the current bill, sponsored by 11 moderate-to-liberal Democrats, the anti-McGraw bill was sponsored by two conservative Democrats, and two Republicans who have since moved on to the Senate: Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Mike Hall, R-Putnam.
(That bill also generated a sizeable ad campaign by the state Chamber of Commerce that continued to run for about a month after the bill died that March 2.)
Meanwhile, state employees miffed that a statement from the governor's office directing non-essential employees to stay home during the Feb. 13 snowstorm was not issued until after 9:30 a.m. -- long after employees who had dared venture in had made it to work -- are now doubly irked to learn that many departments may charge those who stayed home (or left early) with annual leave time.
The Department of Health and Human Resources sent this email to employees at 12:32 p.m. on the 13th: "Due to the inclement weather situation in the state and in the absence of an executive order from the governor, employees will need to make a personal decision concerning their need to leave work, but should be aware that they may be charged annual leave for the time taken."
As a DHHR employee noted, the timing of the email meant it arrived in workplace computers after many of the employees who had come into the office that Thursday had left work, per the governor's statement on the winter storm.