By CHARLESTON, W.Va. — I am extremely pleased to report that the Future Fund bill passed unanimously in the Senate this week. I have been a passionate advocate for this bill, which would set up an endowment fund for future use by drawing on a portion of present-day severance tax collections, for several years now.
If this bill becomes law, each year the state would set aside 25 percent of any severance taxes after $175 million has been collected from the industry. The fund would then be encumbered for a number years to allow proper long-term growth. The money could eventually be used for everything from increasing teacher and public employee salaries to infrastructure projects and tax relief. Long term, it will serve as an economic stabilizer to allow wealth and prosperity to remain in West Virginia well after the natural gas boom has ended.
We missed a similar opportunity in the past with the coal boom. If we had started a similar fund in 1975 using just one percent of our severance tax dollars, we would have a fund worth nearly $8 billion dollars today. West Virginia would likely be a completely different state today. We have been given a second chance with natural gas and I don’t want us to miss out on this opportunity again.
West Virginia spends about $100,000 per child to educate its students from elementary school through college. However, once those students graduate from state schools, they tend to leave because of lack of employment opportunities. The loss of our best and brightest to other states is akin to a manufacturing company that discards one of its products for every one built.
It simply does not have to be this way and our summer trip to study a similar fund in North Dakota further opened our eyes to this tremendous opportunity. A few years ago not many people wanted to go to North Dakota because of the lack of opportunity but the natural gas boom transformed it into one of the nation’s fastest growing states. They capitalized on the industry by setting aside some of the tax money it collected for a Legacy Fund. In 20 months, the state had $1.5 billion, more than the $900 million it took West Virginia 20 years to save in our Rainy Day Fund.
West Virginia has long needed to diversify its economy in many areas and these funds would give us a great opportunity to do that. We can create sustainable wealth in the state that will benefit every citizen. The possibilities are endless. By passing this legislation, we can show the nation that West Virginia, during these tough economic times, is not only weathering the storm today, but planning for a brighter tomorrow. The bill now moves on for consideration in the House of Delegates.
I am also proud to note that Senate Bill 6 has passed the Senate. The legislation requires a prescription for medications containing pseudoephedrine, a key meth-making ingredient. The bill exempts certain “tamper resistant” pseudoephedrine products which can’t easily be converted into meth.
This legislation is vital to curbing the scourge of meth that is plaguing our state’s families and communities. It is past time that we make a bold effort solve this crisis. The bill is now being considered in the House of Delegates.
If you would like to follow the daily action of the Legislature, visit the 81st Legislature on the web at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/.
I encourage all of you, regardless of party or affiliation, to contact me with any concerns you have regarding issues facing our district or our state. You can write to me at: Jeffrey V. Kessler, State Senate, Room 227M, Building 1 State Capitol Complex Charleston, WV 25305.