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Time to communicate

February 16, 1999

After years of complaining that governors didn't include enough in West Virginia's state budget to cover the state's expenses, in 1995 the legislature started putting asidemillions in cash in what they called a "rainy day" account.

Spokesmen for Gov. Cecil Underwood say budget problems can be worked out in other ways, but real flaw seems to be that the governor's staff doesn't start budget talks with legislative leaders until the 60-day session begins.

Underwood Chief of Staff Jim Teets told The Associated Press that "We're under no obligation to consult with them" and took a swipe at former Gov. Gaston Caperton, saying that he apparently allowed the legislature to write his budget for him.

If Teets is looking to make friends for the governor, he's going about it the wrong way. Even if the governor and the legislature are controlled by two different parties, there's no reason that they can't talk about priorities before the session begins. But, Teets said, the governor prefers to submit his own budget without legislative input, then allow lawmakers to pass it, reject it, or come up with a compromise.

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The problem, of course, is that in a 60-day session, there's not a lot of time to work on compromises. If one were cynical, one might tend to believe that the governor's staff was purposely withholding budget information until the session's start so lawmakers would have less time to tinker with it.

Given Underwood's progressive attitude on other matters, we have to hope that isn't the case. That said, we also have to wonder whether the lack of advance talks between the legislative and executive branches is also responsible for the lack of progress at the session's halfway point.

A family law reform bill, which was supposed to be 1999's top priority, hasn't been introduced yet. And worker's comp reform, mountaintop-mining regulation and a plan to sell state liquor licenses haven't progressed very any further than the state budget. Perhaps it's time for the executive and legislative branches to remember that they're both on the same side and start talking about making some progress.

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