W.V. lawmakers planning trip to explore Future Fund

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July 12, 2013

West Virginia

By Phil Sletten

CHARLESTON, West Virginia: West Virginia State Senate President Jeffrey Kessler (D) is continuing to push for a "Future Fund" for West Virginia, modeled after North Dakota's Legacy Fund. The fund, as Kessler proposes, would put a portion of the anticipated increase in severance fees charged to fuel companies into savings that could not be used until later years.[1]

North Dakota implemented their Legacy Fund in 2011, and the oil and natural gas boom there pushed the Legacy Fund's reserves up to $1 billion in the first 20 months of it's existence.[2] Now, with natural gas exploration increasing in West Virginia, supporters of the Future Fund argue that West Virginia should set aside a portion of the new revenue collected for later use. They note that if a small portion of West Virginia's coal wealth had been saved in the boom years, the state would likely be very wealthy today, rather than one of the poorest states in the country.[1][3][4][5] Opponents argue that the state should use that expected revenue to fix roads and address contemporary shortcomings, and note that the state already has $1 billion in the existing Rainy Day Fund.[6]

To explore methods for implementing a possible fund, Kessler is planning a trip to North Dakota with up to a dozen other legislators.[1] Members of the delegation have yet to be named, but some, including Senator Daniel Hall (D), have expressed interest in the trip. Hall co-sponsored a bill with Kessler that would have created a version of this fund, but it did not proceed past the Finance Committee this session.[7][2] Kessler expects State Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall (R) and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley (D) to join him on the trip.[1]

Recent polling of West Virginia residents found strong support for the idea of a Future Fund. West Virginia residents even support raising the tax on oil and gas companies to bolster the fund.[8] Kessler did not propose that in his legislation, but noted that he did not think a few extra cents per barrel cost would dissuade energy companies from coming to West Virginia.[9]

The cost of the trip cannot be determined until the size and composition of the delegation has been determined, according to Kessler's office.[10]

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