Raises for magistrates are not a top priority
West Virginia's legislative session coincides with hockey season, a sport in which the most important player is not the player who scores but the goalie who prevents the other team from scoring.
Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, ended up having to block the first bad bill of the session - a pay raise forwarded by Democrats in the House of Delegates.
Democrats in the House made giving magistrates a pay raise their top priority. They passed a pay raise for public employees - the first bill passed this year - by a vote of 53-45.
Republicans quite correctly made the point that this is not the year to be handing out pay raises that would cost $737,000 a year, as this bill proposes to do.
That $737,000 would come from a state that is cutting the budgets in many agencies by 7.5 percent next year.
In 10 years, magistrates have received more than $20,000 in raises - $3,000 in 2003, $10,000 in 2005, and $7,500 in 2011. As Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, pointed out, most West Virginians haven't.
Magistrates in counties with 8,400 people or more are now paid $57,500 a year. Magistrates in smaller counties receive $51,125.
This bill would raise all magistrates' pay to $57,500 a year.
Republicans couldn't stop this extravagance in the House, but Presiozo may not let it escape his committee in the Senate.
"I don't think there's any appetite for salary increases this year," he told the Daily Mail's Zack Harold. "We've got so much work to do."
Prezioso pointed to the governor's proposed $34.8 million cut in the state's aid to colleges and universities.
Prezioso said he did not understand the House's rush to pass the bill when the Senate does not take up House bills until after the fourth week of the session.
"If we start giving pay raises this early in the session, we'll have to deal with every special interest group and look at salary increases," Prezioso told Mannix Porterfield of the Register-Herald in Beckley.
"At this stage of the game, we're not certain about exactly what's in the budget, or how deep those cuts are in those particular line items. You just can't even begin to conceive going down that road."
Taxpayers should ask the Democratic leadership in the House why, with all the tough budgetary decisions ahead, Democrats made handing out raises to magistrates in small counties their first priority.