Quick Resolution Needed On Grant Committee, Official Says

The Charleston Gazette

by Phil Kabler, STAFF WRITER

CHARLESTON (Tuesday, May 20, 2003) -- page C-1

Tax and Revenue Secretary Brian Kastick said Monday he hopes that a reconstituted Economic Development Grant Committee will be able to send lottery revenue bonds to market before the 2003 construction season ends.

“We realize we’ve got to move quickly, because we’re burning the construction season,” Kastick said.

On Friday, the state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of issuing the bonds to provide development grants for dozens of projects statewide. But justices ruled that the committee that issued those bonds was unconstitutional, because six of the nine committee members came from lists of nominees submitted by legislative leaders.

The ruling, which temporarily cancelled $215 million of grants the committee awarded to 35 projects, essentially provided a road map for corrective action that will pass constitutional muster.

Kastick said administration officials would work with legislators to have legislation for a new committee ready for a special session, probably in early June.

One issue will be whether to give Gov. Bob Wise authority to reappoint the current nine members of the committee, something the Supreme Court opinion said would not taint the process.

Wise indicated last week he would be inclined to reappoint the same nine members.

“That would be the most expedient way — just to have the same nine members and not have to go through a long learning curve,” Kastick said.

He noted that the current committee members spent hundreds of hours reviewing grant applications, participating in presentations by project backers, and attending public hearings around the state.

The court opinion also lets the Legislature limit grant applications to those filed prior to last year’s deadlines, or allow additional applicants to apply for funding.

“That’s one of the details we need to work out with the Legislature,” Kastick said.

He said it’s difficult to set deadlines for the reconstituted committee to re-review applications, award grants, and sell the lottery revenue bonds until the details of the corrective legislation are determined.

“Until we know what the Legislature does to fix this, it’s hard to give specific timelines,” he said. “We’re ready to get this done as quickly as possible.”

The legislation is expected to be on the call for a special session already tentatively scheduled for early June to address the Workers Compensation system.

“We need to work with the Legislature over the next several weeks to come up with a fix that conforms with the Supreme Court decision,” Kastick said