AND THEN AGAIN by Tamara Pettit

…..Not sure if my gullibility (or my knowledge that no idea is too ridiculous to turn into a bill and introduce in the WV Legislature) resulted in me thinking for a moment a bill introduced last week was for real. It was April 1 so the timing might have seemed suspect, but I’ve seen more ludicrous legislation emerge. So when MetroNews ran a story about a proposal to solve the budget woes by selling off the gold gilding the Capitol dome….I thought, “Well stranger things have happened.”
…..The goal of legislators in Charleston right now is to cut taxes, specifically the State income tax. The conundrum (one of my favorite words) is they either have to raise another tax…..remove tax exemptions….or cut programs. What to do? As the session nears an end, legislators’ heads are spinning as they look for a pot of gold so they can make constituents happy with a tax cut without cutting services or taxing another source.
…..But, what if that “pot of gold” was just overhead? In Hoppy Shore’s April 1st column on MetroNews he wrote of a bill which proposed selling off the gold gilding on the capitol dome and funding the deficit in the budget. The ficticious sponsor of the bill said with gold selling at $1,700 an ounce, the State could recoup $50 million and just paint the dome with “Tuscan Sun” (actually my choice would be “restrained gold.” )
…..Pretty cute April Fool’s column, but it got me thinking back to a time when our wealthiest Governor, Jay Rockefeller, didn’t think the investment in gold to gild the dome was worth it…..even though the gold had already been purchased in former Governor Arch Moore’s administration.
……In the book, Governors, author John G. Morgan relates that during his first administration in 1984, Rockefeller scrapped plans by former Governor Arch Moore’s administration to apply the gold leaf saying, “It seems to me with the variety of shortages the State faces the last thing I can justify is a gold dome.” Rockefeller said the cancellation of the gold leaf would save the State $164,000 and about $95,000 of that could be used to buy a snow blower for Preston County. Rockefeller said suitable paint could be applied and the rolls of gold purchased for the project during the Moore administration and stored in the treasurer’s office could be sold.
….Former Governor Moore said the contract to use the gold leaf was binding on the State. Rockefeller didn’t concur and used the money for other purposes and proceeded with plans to apply the paint. And, so for a while we had a blue and gold dome and it looked just looked awful.
…..West Virginia’s capitol building was completed in 1931 many years after we became a State. That was because we kept moving the capitol city location from Wheeling to Charleston. For a while the Capitol building was at Linsly School in Wheeling and then Independence Hall in Wheeling. When it moved to Charleston a temporary capitol was built downtown and then a “pasteboard” capital while the real capitol was being constructed. The pasteboard capitoll burned and strangely enough its replacement burned as well. Architect Cass Gilbert was given the contract for our current capitol building and no expense was spared. The gold gild on the dome, which is 4 ½ feet higher than any in the nation including our nation’s capital, was magnificent.
…..Repairs to mitigate water damage which caused the deterioration of the dome along with gold leaf gilding on the dome were recently completed. For the first time in three years the scaffolding is absent from the dome. The 23-K gold leaf has been applied in three-inch squares and the entire project has a price tag of $15 million.
…..Funding to keep the gold leaf intact on the capital building has been a challenge throughout the years. Many sources were tapped for the funding. In 1997 former Governor Cecil Underwood saw that there was an abundance of money in the video lottery account so he submitted a bill to tap the account to make sure the gold gilding was maintained. There is an old rule in legislation: It’s really not safe to open up a section of the code because once you do all bets are off as to what can happen.
…..In the case of the Governor’s Gold Dome bill, however, all bets were on! At the same time, a bill sponsored by myself and Del. Sam Love which allowed video lottery machines to add spinning wheels, fruits and bar and coin drop had passed the House of Delegates only to die in the Senate in the last days. But no legislation is really dead until the buzzer rings at midnight on the 60th day. Until the midnight hour there is always a vehicle and the Governor (who was very anti gaming) had this bill which opened up the same section of the code…. kinda.
……The Governor’s bill passed the Senate and had to pass through the House, but first it had to pass through the House Finance Committee. I sat on Finance and saw an opportunity to resurrect our video lottery bill by amending the entire bill into the Governor’s bill. The “Gold Dome” bill hit the floor of the House at five minutes to midnight on the final hours. The clock was ticking and the Finance Chair Bob Kiss explained that Finance Committee had only “one little amendment” and recommended it “do pass.” Opponents immediately questioned if the amendment was germane to the bill. The Speaker of the House ruled it was. It was now two minutes to midnight and anti-gaming delegates were on their feet yelling “gambling, gambling, no, no!” Weirton Steel had given all the delegates tin can banks and they began clanking them causing chaos. A Republican delegate from Ohio County ran to me and said “swear there is no riverboat or casino gaming in this bill” I did. He returned to his seat and gave a thumbs up to his fellow Republicans. The “gold dome bill” passed second before the midnight hour struck. The Governor was not happy, but the people of Hancock County were. The State would continue to preserve the gold leaf dome and Mountaineer and the three other racetracks would increase the number of machines and add onto the casino. The revenue from that change resulted in additional video lottery revenue which greatly aided the State, the County and enabled Mountaineer to add machines, construct a whole new addition to the casino and in 2000 add the Harv and the Grande Hotel.
…….April Fools? Nope. Proof that truth is stranger than fiction.