CHARLESTON, W.Va. - With the legislative session nearing its final day, lawmakers are engaging in what Senate President Jeff Kessler calls "old-school horse trading" to get their bills passed.
House Judiciary Chairman Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said the House would hold up a Senate bill to create a special tax district in Monongalia County in an attempt to get the upper chamber to pass the House's magistrate pay raise bill.
West Virginia University officials are seeking the special tax district so they can build a new baseball stadium. Tax revenue increases resulting from development within the district would be used to finance the project.
Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso called Miley's strategy "unconscionable."
Miley said he personally supports the special tax district for Monongalia County. He thinks it would benefit his county as well, adding that not supporting it would be hypocritical considering his advocacy for such districts in Harrison.
But he said other members of the House leadership team weren't as excited about that bill as they were the magistrate pay measure.
"There's no question: there are many members in the House of Delegates, many of whom are on leadership, who want that magistrate bill, and they're willing to sacrifice the TIF bill if they don't get the magistrate bill."
He specifically mentioned three delegates: Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton; Finance Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo; and Education Chairwoman Mary Poling, D-Barbour.
The magistrate bill approved by the House affected all of their counties, and Miley thought that was a big factor in behind-the-scenes negotiating for the bill creating the special tax district.
There was some discussion of the bill in Miley's committee Wednesday morning, but it was passed without any changes. Later in the day, White's committee made a small change to the bill -- correcting the name of the development to "University Town Centre," not "Center" -- before sending it to the full House.
In the Senate, the Judiciary Committee unanimously passed Miley's magistrate pay raise bill. However, the panel made major changes that may jeopardize the legislation's chances when it goes back to the House for approval.
The committee agreed to a "strike and insert" amendment, gutting the House bill and replacing it with language from a Senate bill.
Instead of equalizing the pay of all state magistrates, as the House intended, the Senate bill instead would lower the population threshold that determines the size of magistrate paychecks.
Magistrates in counties with 8,400 or fewer people now are paid $51,125 a year, while magistrates in larger counties make $57,500.
Following the 2010 Census, magistrates in four counties -- Lewis, McDowell, Wetzel and Wyoming -- saw their pay reduced because populations fell below that threshold.
The Senate bill would lower the bar to 7,300 people, restoring magistrate pay in those four counties. Magistrates in Barbour and Roane counties also would see raises.
The measure would raise the pay of 14 magistrates rather than the 38 who would benefit from the House version. The Senate version would cost the state $240,800 a year while the House version would cost $737,000.
Miley said Wednesday the Senate's changes to the legislation might not work for House members.