CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia legislators have apparently shot down a plan to raise county elected officials' salaries, a top lawmaker said.
Lawmakers have also dismissed a request to allow some judges to take home a few thousand dollars more a year.
A year after lawmakers gave across-the-board raises to most state employees, teachers and judges, the budget is tighter, an election is on the horizon and there's little appetite for increasing public workers' pay.
Still, three pay bills remain alive in the Legislature, which ends its annual 60-day regular session on Saturday.
One would equalize pay for all state magistrates and their staff.
Another would allow the State Police superintendent to give some troopers more overtime pay.
A third would boost the salaries of State Police lab workers who are civilian employees, not troopers.
But the two other pay changes are off the table for this year, even though neither would have drawn money from the state budget.
Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said raises for the county elected officials and pension change for the judges hadn't moved in either the House or Senate.
"Both sides have determined this year isn't the year to do pay raises," he said.
The most significant of the two plans may have been the raises sought by county officeholders.
County officials lobbied for raises that would give $10,000 more to commissioners, $13,000 more to sheriffs, $15,000 more to circuit and county clerks, $10,000 more to assessors and $12,000 more to prosecutors.
West Virginia Association of Counties Executive Director Patti Hamilton said the raises might still happen - just not this year. This year is, of course, an election year.
"I've heard a lot of 'next year,' but, of course, our last pay raises passed in an election year (2006)," Hamilton said. "I actually think it's harder on our own membership in an election year than on the Legislature."
Senate Majority Leader John Unger, D-Berkeley, had challenged that argument and accused county officials of playing a shell game to avoid the political fallout politicians can face for getting raises. He said county officials come to Charleston, lobby for raises then go back to their counties and say the Legislature forced them to take more money. He suggested finding a way to hold county officials more accountable for raises they get.
But, in an email to Hamilton, West Virginia University law professor Bob Bastress said a reasonable reading of the state constitution is that the Legislature should set the salaries of some county elected officials.
"Moreover, that is what we've been doing from the get-go, so far as I know - the Legislature sets the compensation of the [elected] officers, and the county commissions (formerly the county courts) set the pay for the county employees," Bastress said in the email.
The money for the raises would have come out of the county budget, not the state one.
The other compensation-related bill that is dead would have changed the take-home pay for some state judges, Currently, 47 of the state's sitting circuit court judges and two of the five sitting Supreme Court justices pay 10.5 percent of their salaries into the judicial pension plan. The bill would reduce that figure to as little as 7 percent, because the pension plan is currently over-funded. As a result of the proposed changes, the judges could take home several thousand dollars more a year.