CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Saturday night, the House and Senate played a game of chicken -- and the 2013 regular session ended up crashing and burning.
The biggest loss in the carnage, barring the likelihood it will be put on a special session call, was the Morgantown-area tax increment financing authorization (SB125), lost because the House and Senate couldn't agree on how many magistrates should get pay raises this year.
A rational person unfamiliar with the Legislature might ask what in the world magistrate pay has to do with a multimillion-dollar economic development project.
You may recall last week regarding the TIF bill, I pointed out how provincial legislators can be, to the point that if a particular project does not benefit their region, they'd just as soon not have it located in the state at all.
This time, the horse trade the House wanted was to eliminate a lower pay tier for magistrates from smaller counties, giving $6,375 pay raises to 48 magistrates and proportional raises for their staffs.
The Senate, not keen on singling out one group of public employees for pay hikes, offered a plan to restore salaries for eight magistrates and staff who dropped to the lower pay tier Jan. 1 because of population losses in their counties.
(Off topic, but it's probably good we don't pay teachers that way, with teachers at AAA schools getting paid more than A ...)
At about 11:30 p.m., the Senate also extended a peace offering of an interim study of magistrates' caseload and pay, which didn't placate House leadership. (As a practical matter, had the House taken up either bill in the waning moments, they very likely would have been "talked" to death by opponents of either measure.) The magistrate pay bill originally passed the House 53-45 after more than 90 minutes of debate ...
Now the question is will Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin -- who was working behind the scenes Saturday to free up the TIF bill -- call a special session at the end of this week's budget conference to take up those measures. A statement from his office early Sunday morning said he will consider it, but he needs to talk first with legislative leadership.
(One imagines that after a session with hardly any economic development accomplishments, Tomblin would be keen to sign off on the $100 million-plus development project.)
House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, said Sunday the House is willing to consider a special session to finish Saturday's work.
"There still could be an agreement if we all sit down around the table," he said.
Speaking of Thompson, the Legislature rarely goes more than a session or two without some type of scheme to feather their state pensions.