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Statehouse beat: Hiring freeze had small impact

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's order in March imposing a hiring freeze in state government had an impact, albeit a marginal one.

According to the state Budget Office, the state had a total of 38,202 full-time equivalent employees on Feb. 28. As of July 31, the number was 37,812. That's a decline of 390 FTEs, or barely more than 1 percent of the payroll.

Assuming an average salary of $30,000 (on the high side, I know), the freeze may have saved the state about $3.4 million in payroll -- a proverbial drop in the bucket to fill what turned out to be a $45 million hole in the 2012-13 budget.

Among constitutional officers, Tomblin did his part, as the payroll in the governor's office dropped from 53 to 52 employees.

The attorney general's office payroll dropped by 10, to 178.26 employees (part-timers show up as fractions), while the secretary of state's office fell 2.5 positions to 51. Agriculture fell six positions, to 327.75 FTEs, and the auditor lost four FTEs, to 194.75.

Treasurer John Perdue's office grew, however, from 130 to 133.2 FTEs.

The Legislature was unchanged, at 220.5 FTEs.

The Supreme Court (technically, the whole state court system) grew by 23 positions to 1,371.55, primarily because of new counselors hired for mandated expansion of drug courts and additional parole officers for required additional pre-sentencing risk assessments under the Justice Reinvestment Act. (Constitutionally, of course, the court was not obligated to follow the executive order.)

Among large departments, Health and Human Resources dropped by 40 to 5,707.32; Military Affairs and Public Safety fell 90 to 5,242.5 and Transportation decreased 9.5 to 5,507.5. Higher Education dropped 172 FTEs, to 12,197.59 for both four-year and community colleges.

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Regarding last week's item about how the surge in vehicle purchases to take advantage of the state's generous alternative fuel vehicle tax credit caused a 11.6 percent spike in privilege tax collections, Dave McMahon -- the only legislative lobbyist representing poor people -- noted he's tried for years to repeal the 5 percent tax.

He said the tax is particularly regressive, since most buyers roll the tax payment in with total costs when they finance a vehicle. So not only does the privilege tax raise the purchase price of a $25,000 car to $26,250, but interest payments on the auto loan pushes that cost even higher.

Unfortunately, from McMahon's perspective, the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways is looking at raising the tax from 5 percent to 6 percent as one of the ways to close the state's $600 million a year funding gap for state roads.

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Speaking of lobbying organizations, West Virginia has both an Association of Counties and a County Commissioners Association, and the two are frequently at odds on issues of note.

On Thursday, Jefferson County commissioners voted to drop out of the latter association, saying they found it of little help on issues unique to the Eastern Panhandle. Kanawha County dropped out of the association about two years ago.

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A couple years back, I wrote about how faculty at West Liberty University were upset that President Robin Capehart had hired Kristen Seibert as a contract employee at a salary of $48,000 to be producer and business manager for the university's cable access channel.

Seibert is also manager of Flyover Films, a film production company Capehart founded to produce low-budget, wholesome family films (which happen to star his daughter, Emily).

Since then, Flyover Films has released "The Doughboy" (executive produced by Seibert) and has a second film, "A Christmas Tree Miracle," set for release this holiday season.

Also, I'm told Capehart is the subject of a compliant filed with the Ethics Commission, contending the arrangement constitutes use of public funds for private gain.

Coincidentally, Tomblin appointed three new members to the West Liberty Board of Governors Friday: George Couch and Sandra Chapman of Wheeling and Joe Carey of New York.

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Finally, it turns out the Charleston train station will be getting a sign identifying the stop as Charleston, W.Va., apparently at the behest of Amtrak -- which has had problems with passengers detraining in Charleston, thinking they're in Charlottesville, Va. (The intercom on the Cardinal isn't always that clear, and the problem with getting off at the wrong stop on the Cardinal is the next train may not come through for two or three days.)

I also learned at the August Friends of the Cardinal meeting that the station technically has never had an identifying sign, even in the heyday of C&O passenger service.

For many years, there was a newsstand on the station platform that did have an identifying sign, but nothing on the station itself.

Also interesting, for many years, the C&O station had segregated waiting rooms, but not in the way you might think. Upstairs was the men's waiting room, where smoking was permitted; women and children used the lower-level, no-smoking waiting area.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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