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mh 13apr01 - WVA XGR

April 13, 2001

2001 legislative session mixed bag for Gov. Wise



Gov. Bob Wise should be optimistic as the West Virginian Legislature heads toward its Saturday conclusion. The first-term governor won't get all that he asked for, but won't get shut out either. The lessons of this first session could lead to better things in 2002, is Wise takes them to heart.

On Wednesday, the governor's "gray machine" proposal won state senate passage by a single vote when Karen Facemyer, R-Jackson, broke ranks with the GOP after the outright ban on video-poker machines she'd sought was defeated.

Reasoning that some regulation is better than nothing, Facemyer kept the bill alive, along with the governor's hopes that it will be used to fund PROMISE scholarships for students with "B" averages or higher. A senate compromise sets aside $1 million for scholarships in 2002 and $10 million the following year, but other gaming revenues would be used to improve teachers' salaries.

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But the senate also added an amendment to the bill that would increase the maximum amount that can be bet on each play of a slot machine from $2 to $5. A player who loses 20 times in a row would now be out $100, as opposed to just $40 under the old maximum, a fact that may come back to bite those who see only the up side of gambling.

Across the aisle, the House Finance Committee endorsed a Senate bill to enact a 7 percent tax on smokeless tobacco. It's not the 25 percent Wise wanted, but it's a start.

The governor promised early on he would do a better job of communicating with the legislature than his predecessor, Cecil Underwood. That didn't really happen. As a result, the governor's key priorities took major hits, not because things like scholarships aren't worthwhile, but because Wise didn't lay the groundwork by reviewing the last few sessions and working hard on relationships with key lawmakers.

As a former Congressman, Wise is used to a great deal of deference. To prosper in 2002, he needs to pay homage to some of the key lawmakers by listening to their views before the session begins.

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