The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 28, 2013

Road trip: Lawmakers to explore N.D.’s ‘future fund’

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — West Virginia let the balloon go up without it back in the heyday of King Coal by failing to dedicate some taxes paid by the industry to a “future fund” for growth.

Now, the big question is, are lawmakers going to repeat the past with Marcellus shale proceeds?

Hoping to learn more about this, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is heading to the Peace Garden State on Aug. 21, the final day of that month’s interims meetings, to get a close-up look at North Dakota’s success story.

In only four years, that state has built a similar fund that has climbed to $1.3 billion.

Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, who arranged the entourage, tried to get a future fund erected in this state in the last legislative session, but SB167 never hit the floor of his chamber for a vote.

“North Dakota is good evidence of the value of future funds in terms of our ability to move the state of West Virginia forward,” says Sen. Bill Laird, D-Fayette, among those picked by Kessler to make the trip.

Laird said Friday he views the visit as a “fact-finding mission, where hopefully we have the opportunity to discuss what’s proven to be successful in North Dakota and its potential application for the long-term future of West Virginia.

“I think it certainly makes a lot of sense for not only the immediate future but the long-term future of the state,” the senator said. “I think there’s a tremendous opportunity now with the economic potential of the Marcellus shale industry and certainly recognize that planning for the future is an important legislative responsibility.”

Laird agreed with the Senate president that West Virginia passed up a golden opportunity decades ago by not dedicating some of the tax proceeds from coal to such a fund, enabling the state to finance a seemingly endless array of projects.

Blessed with an abundance of natural resources, Laird said the state is poised to reap economic growth and expansion.

“Recognizing that those are finite resources and, at some point in time, as we should have been with the coal industry, when those become depleted, it becomes more and more difficult for communities to continue to sustain themselves,” Laird said. “Part of the logic of looking into our future is a clear understanding of our past.”

Others making the trip are Sens. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming; Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier; Bob Beach, D-Monongalia; Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio; Bob Plymale, D-Wayne; and Bob Williams, D-Taylor, and Delegates Nancy Guthrie, D-Kanawha; Jason Barrett, D-Berkeley; Adam Young, D-Nicholas; Richard Iaquinta, D-Harrison; Bill Hamilton, R-Upshur; Ron Walters and Eric Nelson, both R-Kanawha; Philip Diserie, D-Brooke, and Mike Manypenny, D-Taylor.

“I think this is a great opportunity to plan for the future,” Hall said.

The freshman senator said West Virginia needs to “do today what we should have done with coal 80 to 100 years ago.”

“If we are successful in starting this fund, I believe our children and grandchildren will be proud that we took this action and instituted a plan for the financial future of West Virginia,” Hall said. “This is not so much about saving for a rainy day, but planning for a better day.”

Beach, likewise, applauded the potential benefits of learning from the North Dakota Legacy Fund.

“I believe we, as legislators, must be engaged beyond our borders, as solutions for internal problems may be found in external locations,” the senator said.

“North Dakota has take the initiative to deal with the cyclical nature of prosperity and, as such, I believe from a legislator’s perspective it’s worth more than Wikipedia examination of the facts surrounding their Legacy Fund.”

Early on, signs point to benefits for West Virginia creating a similar fund, he said.

“However, the core of the investigation is to gather facts and eventually plug them into a model that will work for West Virginia,” Beach added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com