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Statehouse Beat: Was N.D. trip worth $25,000?

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- How much did it cost to send a delegation of 19 legislators to beautiful Bismarck, N.D., to study the state's Legacy Fund, a model for a possible West Virginia Future Fund, to invest a portion of state revenues from the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling boom?

At this point, we're waiting for any of the legislators (Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall; Sen. Bob Beach, D-Monongalia; Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio; Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming; Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette; Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier; Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne; Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston; Sen. Gregory Tucker, D-Nicholas; Sen. Bob Williams, D-Taylor; Delegate Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley; Delegate Phillip Diserio, D-Brooke; Delegate Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha; Delegate Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur; Delegate Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison; Delegate Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor; Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha; Delegate Ron Walters, R-Kanawha; and Delegate Adam Young, D-Nicholas) to file for expense reimbursements following last month's trip to Bismarck. (Most will file when they're next in town for September interim meetings.)

However, Senate assistant clerk Lee Cassis has come up with a pretty good ballpark estimate.

Two nights' hotel for each participant was $167.86. Additionally, each legislator was eligible for three days of $55 per-diem for meals, from Aug. 21-23, for a total of $165.

Airfare, on draconian routes such as Charleston-Atlanta-Minneapolis-Bismarck or Charleston-Chicago-Denver-Bismarck, averaged $1,000 per participant, Cassis said.

So the trip basically cost $1,333 for each legislator, or about $25,327 for the delegation.

(Considering that the Legacy Fund has accumulated $1.5 billion in 20 months, 15 minutes of the fund's growth would have paid for the trip. Then again, one could argue that a 19-legislator delegation was a bit of overkill, reminiscent of the 2007 Council of State Governments conference in Puerto Rico, when West Virginia sent a bigger delegation to the conference than Puerto Rico did.)

***

Speaking of interims, a couple of weeks ago I mentioned that lobbyists are bristling at the proliferation of Charleston fundraisers on interim meeting evenings, with the state Democratic Legislative Council going so far as to post a calendar of fundraisers, with at least a half-dozen scheduled for September and October.

(Legislators have a captive audience, since the same lobbyists attend the interim meetings.)

Since then, at least three more have been scheduled: Delegate Denise Campbell, D-Randolph, on Sept. 23; Sen. Fitzsimmons in October; and Sen. Miller in November.

***

The state Republican Legislative Council did some fundraising of its own during the state Chamber of Commerce Business Summit at The Greenbrier.

Republican U.S. Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley and former Utah governor Jon Huntsman were the official co-hosts for the event, but the surprise guest who reportedly stole the show was Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who was at ease in the "hostile" territory. Reportedly, Manchin drew a few cries of "welcome home" as he worked the room.

***

House Health and Human Resources Chairman Don Perdue's strong advocacy of making pseudoephedrine a prescription drug apparently is not sitting well with Big Pharma.

Word is that Consumer Healthcare Products Association (over-the-counter drug retailers) lobbyist Abby Sobonya has been trying to recruit a Wayne County Democrat to oppose Perdue in 2014 (or possibly more Democrats, on the theory that the odds for an upset increase in a multi-candidate primary election).

If reports that more than half of all pseudoephedrine sales are going for illegal methamphetamine production, then today's pharmaceutical industry has a lot in common with cigarette manufacturers, in knowingly putting profit ahead of public health and well-being.

***

I was chided by a reader for failing to raise objections to the Tomblin administration allowing acting Juvenile Services director Stephanie Bond to bill costs of meals, lodging and travel (roughly $550 a week) to the state, while commuting to Charleston from her home in Preston County, after taking issue with a similar arrangement for then-acting DHHR secretary Rocco Fucillo.

"Her job, like Fucillo's or any state agency is based primarily in Charleston, and like Fucillo she should not be paid to come to Charleston to do her job," the reader stated.

Frankly, I didn't write about it, because I didn't know about the arrangement until I read it in the paper. However, the reader's point is duly and well noted.

*** 

Finally, the best line of the week goes to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, after announcing this year's Appalachian Regional Commission grants during a presentation in the governor's reception room.

Noting that the 11 grants totaling $4.3 million was fairly paltry, compared to past years, Tomblin told the crowd: "I'm afraid that's it. You may have heard of the federal sequestration."

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


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