TO PORK OR NOT TO PORK - That Is The Question?

(10/17/2005)

OPINION AND COMMENT by Bob Weaver

Most WV politicians love the Budget Digest, but some privately admit it can be a curse.

The "Digest Bacon" nurtures incumbents who spread the taxpayer cash around their county or district, and more often than not, it gets them re-elected.

There are problems with the Digest.

Powerful legislators get more than their share of the disbursement and critical needs often go un-funded.

The most glaring example, Del. Harold Michael D-Hardy, chairman of the House Finance Committee, has brought millions to his home district.

House Speaker Bob Kiss defended Michael, saying that's what a good legislator does, bring home the bacon. Besides, Michael has tenure.

Michael's millions have funded everything from a local gun club and cemetery to starting a community college that has few students. The list seems endless.

A study done by Charleston newspapers showed that each Hardy citizen got about $528 through Michael's efforts, while small rural counties like Doddridge got about $25.

Little consideration is given critical needs.

In Calhoun, through the efforts of Del. Bill Stemple, a new $250,000 State Police barracks is being built on the Mt. Zion campus of Calhoun Middle-High School.

A study done for the State Police had recommended the barracks in Calhoun County be closed. Gov. Joe Manchin vetoed the funding, but Del. Michael and other legislators restored the funding.

There are critical needs in Calhoun, like the completion of a 911 center, replacing ambulances that have 150,000 miles and outdated fire apparatus.

Now, the legislature is resisting an attempt to make some of its staff testify in a legal challenge of the Budget Digest process.

It is just another in a series of challenges over the Digest.

It has been brought against the state by a Montgomery woman who believes lawmakers fail to fund important agencies or high priority projects, but prefer to fund their favorite pork projects.

Legislative lawyers asked a Kanawha County circuit judge last week to throw out subpoenas issued for the staffers in the case brought by Charleston lawyer Dan Hedges.

Hedges says he needs the witnesses to explain the digest process, but legislative lawyers say the constitutional separation of powers protects them from having to testify.

Judge Jim Stucky expects to rule on the request today.


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