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Delegate previews legislative session

By Staff | Jan 15, 2010

Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, speaks with constituents during a Jan. 7 legislative preview meeting in Shepherdstown. Photo by Michael Theis/Chronicle

State Delegate John Doyle, D-Jefferson, said money would be the top concern facing legislators during the 2010 West Virginia legislative session, which began this week in Charleston. On Jan. 7, Doyle met with constituents at a question and answer session at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies. There, he outlined his legislative agenda that includes raising the gasoline tax, breaking up the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, reforming the state court system and changes to the table game tax revenue distribution.

“We have enough money to fill any holes in the current fiscal year,” said Doyle during the meeting, “however, that does mean we’ll have a hole to fill in the coming fiscal year.” The current fiscal year runs to June 30, 2010, and legislators project a $120 million budget shortfall for fiscal year 2011.

Doyle said that he wanted to raise the gasoline tax by five cents per gallon to reduce a deficiet in the state road fund. Doyle estimated that the average motorist in our area spends $400 annually on auto repairs as a result of poorly maintained roads. He then predicted that better roads would cut these repair costs in half.

“The failure to pass a gasoline tax would be tantamount to passing the auto-mechanic’s full employment act of 2010,” said doyle. “If we raise the gasoline tax by five cents, then we can fix all these potholes and that will only cost you $200 a year.”

Doyle also said there would be a big push to break up the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources. Doyle advocates splitting the department in two, creating a department of health, and a department of human services. Doyle said that the plan to break up DHHR has support from key members of the house of delegates, like Health and Human Services committee chair Don Perdue, D-Wayne. However, the plan to break up the DHHR is opposed by Gov. Joe Manchin. Speaking at the Associated Press’ Legislative Lookahead conference, Gov. Manchin’s legislative director Jim Pitrolo said that the governor is instead focused on ways to make the agency more efficient.

Doyle also has his sights set on reforming the state court system by adding an intermediate appeals court, instituting public financing of judicial campaign, doing away with partisan judicial elections and changing how the legislature funds the court system. Currently West Virginia is one of a small number of states with no appeals court between the local circuit cort and the state supreme court. Doyle said the partisan, Democrat-versus-Republican, nature of West Virginia’s judicial elections makes West Virginia’s court system “to a degree, unfair.” With regards to funding the court system, Doyle says that West Virginia is the only state in the nation where the legislature does not appropriate money to the courts. Instead, the legislature is required to fund the courts at whatever level the court system decides for that year, a system which Doyle says needs to be changed.

Doyle also said that he wants to re-negotiate the table games bill so that more of the tax revenues can benefit local equestrians and horsemen.

Returning to a familiar rallying cry in the Eastern Panhandle, Doyle also said that locality pay would be an issue in this years legislative session. Doyle said that he’s pushing for a local housing allowance, but cautioned that the Eastern Panhandle’s legislative delegation needs to be united on it. “We need to make that the only priority,” said Doyle, before taking questions.

When asked to rank his own legislative goals for the coming year, Doyle responded simply and quickly, saying “they’re all at the top.”

Doyle represents the 57th district in the West Virginia House of Delegates, comprising the northern half of Jefferson County: Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, Shenandoah Junction, and communities on the Blue Ridge Mountains closest to Harpers Ferry.

Among the attendees were two challengers to Doyle’s seat is the state legislature, Elliot M. Simon, a Republican from Harpers Ferry, and Lorraine M. Rea, Doyle’s challenger in the Democratic primary.