The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 3, 2014

Future Fund moves ahead to House Finance Committee

CHARLESTON — Future Fund is one step closer to becoming state law, as it passed the House Committee on the Judiciary on Monday morning. With just five days left for action on bills, the measure moved to the House Finance Committee. 

The legislation championed by Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, sets aside 25 percent of oil and gas severance tax revenue funds above $175 million. Although those revenues have not yet come close to that mark, projections for the 2015 fiscal year are at $176 million and depict continued growth for the next several fiscal years.

The state can’t touch the principal in the fund, and interest and other growth in the fund are only to be spent for economic development, infrastructure improvement and educational enhancement. 

Committee members had several questions about the bill, including how future legislators may change the law if it does not become constitutional. 

Senate Joint Resolution 14 would put the constitutional question on the ballot in November. The resolution passed the State Senate unanimously, and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which has not yet discussed it.

Judiciary Committee chair Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, said he hasn’t yet considered putting the resolution on the committee’s agenda because he’s “been busy with other things.”

Manchin may have been referring to the committee’s marathon Sunday session on Senate Bill 373, the legislation concerning regulating above-ground storage tanks. The Judiciary Committee passed that legislation in the wee hours of Monday morning. 

Delegate Justin Marcum, D-Mingo, said he favored the Future Fund law, as it was bound to help the state eventually.

“This bill, I hope, will protect us against feast or famine,” Marcum said, noting that his district in the coalfields has seen “ups and downs.”

Marcum said the funds could be used for post-mine land use, and would help diversify southern West Virginia’s economy. 

“Some of our past legislatures have missed a prime opportunity,” he said. “It’s a great way to help our entire state.”

The Future Fund statutory legislation was amended in the Judiciary Committee on Monday to include historical preservation as an allowable expenditure. 

Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, said his region has visitors to its historic and cultural venues “every single day.”

Skinner said the move would figure into helping the state diversify its economy. 

And the proceeds from the interest and other growth could help out communities where water resources infrastructure is  an issue, Skinner said. 

“This is part of the solution,” he said. “This is the kind of thing we need in West Virginia.”

Committee members were not so enamored of Delegate Mike Manypenny’s attempt to attach water resources to the bill. 

Manypenny, D-Taylor, wanted the bill to include a penny-on-the-gallon tax for industrial water extraction that does not return to the hydrological cycle. Also, Manypenny’s amendment would have added a 2-cent tax per gallon on extracted water that is hauled on state highways with half of those tax revenues going to roads. 

After consulting with legal counsel, Manchin ruled that the amendment was “not germane” to the bill. 

Future Fund was referred to the House Committee on Finance.

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