Kessler asks Tomblin to call for special session

WHEELING – As lawmakers remain in Charleston to hash out a budget almost certain to include an unprecedented dip into West Virginia’s Rainy Day Fund, Senate President Jeff Kessler is urging Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to call a special session to address a number of other issues left unresolved as time ran out on the regular session at midnight Saturday.

Tomblin already has extended the legislative session four additional days, through today, as he is constitutionally required to do if the Legislature fails to pass a budget bill three days prior to the end of the regular session. But his proclamation limits discussion to the budget bill, and lawmakers are waiting to see if Tomblin will call for debate on other issues they didn’t get to address during the regular 60-day session.

There are two ways to convene a special session in West Virginia: By governor’s proclamation, or upon request of three-fifths of the members of both houses.

Specific bills Kessler, D-Glen Dale, wants to see listed on the governor’s call include measures giving counties the authority to use their own money to provide raises to elected county officials and allowing the disposal of drill cuttings and associated drilling waste generated from well sites in commercial solid waste facilities.

“I urge the governor to call a special session, and feel it would be imprudent to leave town while these issues, as well as several supplemental bills needed to balance the 2014 budget, remain unresolved,” Kessler said.

Sen. Larry Edgell, D-New Martinsville, said Tuesday he believes House Bill 4333 – Tomblin’s lottery appropriations bill, sometimes referred to as the “haircut” bill – could also be included in a special session call. That measure would have provided about $35 million by cutting distributions of state lottery revenue to the state Infrastructure Council, a program providing money for new equipment at casinos and various breeders’ and purse funds that support the thoroughbred and dog racing industries.

Legislators expect to take between $84 million and $125 million from the state’s $922 million Rainy Day Fund – established to provide for natural disasters and other unforeseen fiscal emergencies – in order to balance the Fiscal Year 2015 budget. Which end of that range ultimately is closer to the mark may depend largely on the fate of Tomblin’s lottery appropriations bill, and Edgell said that’s why he supported the measure Saturday.

“We just really don’t want to dip into the Rainy Day Fund any more than we have to. … It took a long time to build that up,” Edgell said.

On Saturday, with less than 15 minutes remaining before adjournment, senators approved the haircut bill in a 27-7 vote, but the clock struck midnight before it could be taken up in the House. Senators representing the Northern Panhandle split evenly on the issue, with Kessler and Edgell in favor and Sens. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Wheeling, and Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, voting against. Six of the seven senators who voted against the bill represent districts where racetracks are located, or border a district that is home to one or more racetracks.

Prior to the vote on the haircut bill, senators heard a lengthy explanation from Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Shenandoah Junction, of his amendment – ultimately rejected by voice vote – that would have preserved subsidies for horse and dog racing industries he said are vital to his area’s economy.

Edgell said he didn’t view the events Saturday night as deliberate stall tactics.

“They were hustling as fast at the end that they could. It just didn’t go very smoothly at all,” he said. “That’s a shame.”