Slim chance for magistrate raises

PARKERSBURG – Chances for a magistrate pay bill to even make it to the floor for a vote are slim, said two area state senators.

On Feb. 20 the West Virginia House of Delegates passed its first bill of the session, a measure to equalize the pay for all magistrates without accounting for the population of a county. West Virginia has two pay levels for magistrate court that are based on the population of the county.

In 2012 an identical billed passed the House in a 65-30 vote but died in the Senate Finance Committee.

Sen. Dona Boley, R-Pleasants, said the way the House of Delegates passed the bill did not win it any support in the Senate. She said she is not in favor of the bill.

“The way they put it through without going to the finance committee did not go over well, it left a bad taste with many in the Senate,” she said. “A bill like this should have gone through the finance committee. I don’t know why they thought this was so important for the first week of the session.”

Boley said if the bill makes it to the floor it will be late in the session.

In light of cutting $400 million from the state budget, Boley said 2013 is not the right time for any kind of pay raise.

“We had to cut $400 million from the budget and the governor has cut 7.5 percent for all state agencies; this is not the year to do that,” she said. “It would be better to wait until a time when things are not so tight.”

Sen. Dave Nohe, R-Wood, said he has discussed the bill with other senators and based on what he has heard the bill does not have a chance to pass.

“We don’t have the appetite for a pay raise at this time,” he said. “So many people are struggling to make ends meet with the payroll tax increases. It’s not that I don’t think they (the magistrates and the court staff) deserve it, because they do.”

Nohe said in the 2012 session the same bill sparked a spirited debate in the Senate over the different caseloads for different counties.

“Then the larger counties say they have a larger caseload and should be compensated more,” he said. “If we do the pay raise it creates a vicious circle for more raises based on the caseload.”

Nohe said with the state of the economy pay raises are not on the minds of many.

“We’ve had a rough time with the economy and we’re trying to get back,” he said. “I can’t see a pay raise in this session. I don’t think it will pass or get on to the Senate floor.”

Nohe, who is the ranking minority member on the Senate finance committee, said he does not see the bill even being discussed in committee.

Although the $737,000 annual cost of raises and benefits have been built into the West Virginia Supreme Court’s 2013-14 budget, he said that does not make it easier to pass.

“It’s in their budget and it’s a one-time expense,” he said. “But a pay raise is forever.”

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, assigned the bill to the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senate Finance Committee after it was introduced in that body.

Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said chances of the magistrate pay raises passing the Senate’s finance committee are slim.

“I don’t think there’s any appetite for salary increases this year,” he said. “We’ve got so much work to do.”