West Virginia's sacred political cow was addressed by the West Virginia Supreme Court this week.

The Budget Digest, a favorite of incumbents, must come out of the back room and be developed in more sunshine, according to the court.

The legislature has apparently ignored an earlier court order.

Traditionally, a handful of state lawmakers gather in a secret meeting to tell state agencies how to spend their money, including the crafting of the Budget Digest, this past year worth $23 million.

Delegates and senators use the fund to please voters or to punish others who fall from disfavor.

Poor rural counties wait on allocations which they request for basic needs and services, while larger counties often get larger sums for favorite projects of elected officials.

Officials often say digest funds are being distributed fairly.

Supreme Court Justice Joe Albright, Chief Justice Spike Maynard and Justice Warren McGraw said lawmakers need to start making Budget Digest decisions in public, as required by a 2001 high court ruling.

Albright said neither the house or the senate seems to be following the court's three-year-old order to make Budget Digest appropriations more open.

Instead, the Senate has given members a "slush fund" and the House of Delegates leaders adopted a "garbage can approach" that gives the appearance of being open but ends with most requests landing in the trash, he said.

"What bothers me is the Legislature never has the opportunity to debate the wisdom of these expenditures," he said.

House lawyer M.E. Mowery said "It's wrong to say the majority of the Budget Digest money is allocated by a few people for a few people."

The court was looking at the Budget Digest process at the request of Charleston lawyer Dan Hedges.

Hedges claims that lawmakers have hurt one of his clients, Mary Ann Podelco of Montgomery, by funneling money away from the state Ethics Commission and into the Budget Digest for pet projects.

"The net effect is that whoever gets the [Budget conference] chairman's ear gets the most," said Hedges.

Although the justices were interested in Hedges' challenge to the Budget Digest, they were not happy with his request that they give the Ethics Commission power to investigate lobbyist spending.

Justice Robin Davis slammed Hedges for not having anything to back up his claims.