The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Latest News

November 16, 2011

Senate president targets Marcellus, OPEB

CHARLESTON — New Senate President Jeffrey Kessler says the Legislature needn’t drag its feet this winter in dealing with the staggering liability of paying health care costs of retired West Virginia public employees.

What’s more, Kessler suggested Tuesday after guiding the Senate on his first outing as the president the debt might be only half of the projected $8 billion — red ink that is known in government vernacular as Other Post-Employment Benefits.

On other topics, Kessler insisted the Senate is unified after a summer-long jockeying that ended with his formal ascension as president, and that he hasn’t decided if he’ll retain all of his committee chairs.

While all Democrats voted for him in the floor showdown, Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, was once in the running to unseat Kessler.

Green chairs the Energy, Industry and Mining Committee, one that has gained more attention in recent years, given the Marcellus shale issue and more stringent regulations at the federal level on the coal industry.

“I’ll have to take a look at that,” Kessler, D-Marshall, said of Green’s leadership role.

“Some of my discussions with Mike in the past were that he would like to maybe move on to something else, anyway.”

Kessler told reporters he hasn’t made any final calls on any committee chairs.

In fact, he said all chairs are intact for now, since he re-authorized them once former Sen. Earl Ray Tomblin, D-Logan, became governor Sunday.

Now that Tomblin has taken the oath and was replaced by former Logan County Commissioner Art Kirkendoll, he said, “The acting president vanished into thin air.

“No such beast will ever be seen again, perhaps in my lifetime, or anyone’s.”

Kessler’s title — as was Tomblin’s — bore the preface of “acting” for the past year.

A year ago, when Tomblin succeeded Joe Manchin as governor with his departure to the U.S. Senate, Kessler’s colleagues rewrote the script to create the office of “acting president.”

Acrimony lingered over the controversial change, often surfacing in stinging remarks on the floor.

Kessler and his majority leader, Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, spoke confidently Tuesday that all that is in the past.

“Now that the work begins, healing needs to occur in order to unite the Senate and focus on the work of the people,” Unger said.

“Right now, the body has spoken. We’re no longer in a transitional period. We’re now a full Senate with a full president.”

Kirkendoll invested 30 years in public service as a Logan County commissioner, and given that experience, Kessler said the new senator might want to serve on government organization.

And, with his roots in the southern coalfields, a natural fit could be on EIM, the Senate president said.

Kessler wants speedy resolution of two major issues — regulating the promising Marcellus shale industry, and resolving the OPEB debt.

A select committee today hopes to send out its long-debated bill, but whether Tomblin will call a special session next month remains to be seen. If not, action would be put off until the 60-day session opens in January.

Kessler spoke confidently of a bill to “protect the environment and create opportunities for investment, and wealth, and job creation here in the state.”

“OPEB is another one that needs to be done,” the Marshall County lawmaker said.

“It’s the last major piece of our financial puzzle for the state that’s not in order. We’re going to get it done.”

While the debt has been projected at $8 billion, Kessler said that it is based on an inflation rate of 10 to 12 percent, and if that is reined in, the liability could be halved. The major hangup continues to be an acceptable funding mechanism.

“We’ve dealt with a $4 billion debt before and we can do it again,” he said.

“We had a $4 billion one in workers compensation. We got it done.”

Kessler said he doesn’t intend to use the Senate presidency as a bully pulpit to drive legislation.

“I have great faith in my chairmans and members of the Senate to work bills in committee to work out reasonable compromises and to focus on and not to force anything down anyone’s throats they don’t want,” he said.

A third goal, in sync with Tomblin, is to reverse the out-migration of West Virginia school children once they graduate.

Considering that 60 percent of the budget is dedicated to education, Kessler said more opportunities must be created so they won’t leave West Virginia in search of careers.

“It’s a terrible waste of our budget and our resources,” he said.

Unlike the 2011 session, Kessler said he believes the Senate will be unified as it launches its work in January.

“They’re all good people in this Senate,” he said.

“We may have had some differences. I hope they’re behind us. The election was over yesterday. Now, it’s time to legislate.”

— E-mail:

Text Only
Latest News
  • legion VIDEO: American Legion posts plan to merge

    To help deal with its decreasing membership numbers, Beckley American Legion Post 70 is planning a merger with Post 32.

    “We see the benefit for both of us and for Raleigh County,” Post 32 Adjutant Frank Cook said. “Right now Post 70 is having membership problems and with membership problems comes financial problems.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tri-state coal interests rally before hearings

     More than 2,000 union workers and others organized by the coal industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia joined top state elected officials Wednesday to rally against proposed stricter federal pollution regulations for coal-burning power plants.

    July 31, 2014

  • legal Tort reform group brings message to Beckley

    How can West Virginia create more jobs and have a better business climate, at no cost to taxpayers?

    Greg Thomas, executive director of the West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse (WV CALA), says legal reform is one of the answers to that question.

    July 31, 2014 1 Photo

  • ‘Biscuit guy’ makes his mark with anthem at TWV

    The old saying “being at the right place at the right time” couldn’t be more true for Calvin Alexander.

    Thanks to a salad dressing bottle (and some impressive vocal skills), Alexander was invited to sing the national anthem not once, but twice, at Theatre West Virginia before the opening of “Hatfields and McCoy

    July 31, 2014

  • Judge in W.Va. asked to delay gay marriage ruling

    Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has asked a judge to postpone ruling on a federal lawsuit challenging West Virginia's same-sex marriage ban until the U.S. Supreme Court reviews a ruling in a similar case in Virginia.

    July 30, 2014

  • Tri-state coal interests rally before EPA hearings

    More than 2,000 union workers and others organized by the coal industry in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia joined top state elected officials Wednesday to rally against proposed stricter federal pollution regulations for coal-burning power plants.

    July 30, 2014

  • Work continues on stand-alone Warrior Trail

    The executive director of the Hatfield and McCoy Trail Authority said Tuesday that officials are still working toward the creation of the stand-alone Warrior Trail in McDowell County.

    July 30, 2014

  • East River Mountain Tunnel repairs will continue for several weeks

    Motorists traveling Interstate 77 could see slight delays again tonight as repair work continues inside of the fire-damaged East River Mountain Tunnel.

    July 30, 2014

  • State leaders to attend coal rally in Pittsburgh

    West Virginia officials are set to join hundreds of coal miners and coal supporters at an electricity and energy jobs rally.

    July 30, 2014

  • Americans continue to be plagued by debt

    Credit card debt may have reached its lowest level in a decade, but according to a recent study on personal debt vs. income, just as more people are paying off their credit card debt monthly, nearly the same number of people are being reported for unpaid bills. 

    July 30, 2014