Special Session Is Appropriate

When West Virginia legislators left the Capitol Saturday night to end their annual 60-day regular session, they left unfinished business behind them. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin should give them an opportunity to take care of it.

Legislators accomplished important things during their two months in Charleston. Among other items, they approved a major education reform bill and a measure aimed at reducing overcrowding in state prisons and regional jails.

But the time crunch – and the politics – of the session’s last day were toxic for two other important bills.

One would, as we have noted previously, rectify an injustice. It pertains to magistrates and their staffs.

West Virginia has a two-tier pay scale for magistrates and their staffs. Those in less populous counties are paid less, for no particularly good reason. In part because smaller counties have fewer magistrates, their workloads often do not differ substantially from magistrates in larger counties.

And on Jan.1, as a result of new Census figures, magistrates and their staffs in four counties, including Wetzel, suffered major pay cuts.

Most legislators seemed eager to reverse pay cuts, at least in those four counties. The state Senate approved a bill that would have given magistrates and staffs pay raises in 12 counties. But leaders in the House of Delegates favored eliminating the two-tier pay scale entirely. Their bill would set salaries for all magistrates at $57,500 a year (those in smaller counties now receive $51,125).

Another important bill approved by the Senate would allow a tax increment financing plan to be used for a project near Morgantown. One estimate is the plan would result in a $96 million development, including construction of a ball park to be used by West Virginia University and a minor league baseball team.

Both bills got caught up in politics. Reportedly, the House delayed action on the TIF plan in an attempt to spur senators to approve its version of the magistrate pay measure. But when the midnight Saturday deadline for action arrived, both bills had been allowed to languish without approval.

In both cases, it appears compromise is possible. But for that to happen, legislators will have to meet in a special session to discuss them.

Much of this week will be used in a special session on the state budget. Tomblin should add the magistrate pay and Morgantown-area TIF bills to his call for that special session, or for one immediately following action on the budget.

Then, leaders in both houses of the Legislature should ensure the two bills, both important ones, are approved.