The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 22, 2014

Future Fund Bill passes Senate, moves to House

Legislation sets aside some severance taxes to pay for future government projects

By Sarah Plummer
Associated Press

CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill Friday to conserve and invest a portion of oil and gas revenues to use for future infrastructure and economic development.

The Future Fund Bill sets aside 25 percent of the severance tax revenues collected from private oil and gas companies above a $175 million benchmark. This benchmark projects funds needed to sustain government operations.

The fund would collect interest for six years before being used for economic development projects, building infrastructure and increasing teacher salaries.

Sen. Jeff Kessler, a Democrat from Marshall and the Senate president, said he was pleased the bill passed the Senate without any resistance. He said he hopes to see the state cash in on a growing oil and gas industry and to reserve some of its excess for future prosperity.

“If we manage these resources a little better than the state has done in the past, I think the state has a real opportunity to maximize the wealth for the people of the state,” said Kessler. “Historically our state has been so rich in natural resources yet we are at the bottom in personal incomes, the age of our population and education attainment. I don’t want to see this continue to happen.”

Many other mineral-rich states such as Alaska and Wyoming save a portion of their revenue from natural resources for future economic growth. Kessler pointed out that Texas funds its entire higher education system through a similar fund.

The proposed bill dictates the West Virginia Legislature cannot spend any interest from the Future Fund until 2020. Possible infrastructure projects mentioned in the bill include post-mining land use, water or wastewater facilities and flood control.

The bill will now be moved to the House for action.