Manchin proposes $500 bonus for W.Va. state employees

July 31, 2009

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- At a time when other states are laying off or furloughing their workers, an unexpected surplus prompted Gov. Joe Manchin on Friday to propose a $500 bonus-type payment to each of West Virginia's 51,000 or so full-time employees.

But the continuing tough financial sledding also has the governor asking his departments to cut their spending by 5 percent during the budget year that begins in mid-2010.

Manchin had sought a one-time cash boost for workers earlier this year, but the recession dashed those plans.

West Virginia's economy continues to sputter, but Manchin said state coffers still ended up with around $65 million more than expected during the budget year than ended June 30.

Manchin told reporters at the Capitol that he will ask the Legislature to devote half that toward these payments. State law bars outright bonuses, so the money will instead go to employees as "nonbase building salary enhancements."


"In difficult times, if you're still able to share, that's unbelievable," said Manchin, a Democrat who began his second term this year. "It sets a tremendous tone for our state."

A leader of one group that speaks for state workers said the one-time payment could help, but questioned why the governor did not instead pledge the entire surplus toward a permanent pay increase.

"These folks didn't get a raise," said Ed Hartman, executive director of Council 77 for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "While they'll appreciate that, it won't amount to much after it's taxed."

About $57 million of the surplus comes from lottery proceeds, the rest from general tax revenues. Half of the latter must go to the state's emergency reserves. Administration officials said the balance of the excess lottery revenues could help with next year's budget.

West Virginia will need every cent: Manchin's office recently forecast a $309 million gap between expected revenues and projected spending. As a result, the governor said Friday that he wants executive branch agencies and programs to submit budget proposals for the upcoming fiscal year that are 5 percent leaner than this year's spending.

The recession previously forced Manchin to reduce the state's general and lottery revenue forecast for the current budget year, which began July 1. That delayed work on that budget, which includes $4.2 billion backed by general and lottery revenues. Lawmakers eventually trimmed $197 million from the governor's initial spending proposal -- but also offset $81 million of those cuts with federal stimulus funds.

But Manchin also touted how West Virginia is among just a few states avoiding painful cuts to programs or services, and public employee layoffs or furloughs.

The legislation the governor proposed this year would have allowed him and his successors to provide bonus-type payments by executive order as along as lawmakers budget sufficient funds. Spokesman Matt Turner said Manchin expects to have a similar bill introduced in 2010.

Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday. House Speaker Rick Thompson said in a statement that he will discuss the proposal with leaders and members in that chamber.

"In the past, most lawmakers have preferred working toward an actual base pay increase instead, but I'm sure this initiative is one members will give strong consideration," said Thompson, D-Wayne.

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