CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As he had promised in his campaign, new House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, did not make wholesale changes to House leadership.
In fact, the only surprise was having Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, and Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, swap offices.
(After Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, announced her intentions to run for Congress, there was no drama left in the appointment for Miley's vacant Judiciary chairmanship, which went to Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion.)
Generally, a move from Finance chairman to majority leader would be considered a demotion. However, there are two factors to be considered in this case:
• White had opposed Miley in the speaker's race, and traditionally, the loser gets banished to the proverbial back row. (Most recently, in 2011, then-Senate Majority Leader Truman Chafin, D-Mingo, and Finance Chairman Walt Helmick, D-Pocahontas, opposed Jeff Kessler's election as Senate president, and found themselves on the back row after Kessler's victory.)
• The power and prestige of being Finance chairman is directly proportional to the amount of uncommitted funds available for appropriation. With tight budgets this year and next, it hasn't been a particularly pleasant time to be Finance chair, and having to always say "no" to constituents with funding requests eventually becomes a political liability.
Thoroughbred owners and breeders had a small victory last week, when Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss intervened to block an agreement to have the Lottery Commission provide legal services to the Racing Commission.
However, they have another fight brewing this week, when Penn National Gaming will ask the Racing Commission to sign off on its plan to spin off all of its property holdings -- including Hollywood Casinos at Charles Town Races -- into a separate Real Estate Investment Trust or, REIT.
While the obvious reason is for tax breaks -- REITs generally don't pay corporate taxes -- the horsemen are concerned there are other motivations, including making it easier to buy up competing casinos and racetracks, and to evade Racing Commission and Lottery Commission regulatory oversight.
A lively debate is anticipated at Tuesday's Racing Commission meeting.
Speaking of Penn National, investor materials promoting the REIT lists among the developments slated to open in 2014, the Hollywood Casino at the Mahoning Valley (thoroughbred) Race Course, outside of Youngstown, Ohio.
While that will be a slots-only casino (with 1,500 machines), that will be further competition for West Virginia's Wheeling Island and Mountaineer casinos, already hard-hit by competing casinos in Columbus and Toledo (also owned by Penn National), and in Cleveland to the west, and two metro-Pittsburgh casinos to the east.