By Mannix Porterfield
An idea that died in committee last winter — the creation of a West Virginia Future Fund to enable economic diversification and enhanced infrastructure — isn’t one that Senate President Jeffrey Kessler is willing to give up without a fight.
In fact, the Senate leader is pursuing the concept with a special trip planned this summer with fellow lawmakers in both chambers to examine the North Dakota Legacy Fund.
Financed by oil and gas tax revenue, that state’s fund soared to $1 billion in a mere 20 months, Kessler pointed out in announcing the western trip to learn more about it.
Kessler launched his effort for a similar fund three years ago, but SB167 died in finance committee in this year’s session.
“If we can create the fund and begin investing in it now, it will send a powerful message to Wall Street that West Virginia, during these tough economic times, is not only balancing its budget but also saving for the future,” Kessler said.
“A permanent endowment future fund will create real wealth and opportunity that will last long after the natural gas is gone.”
The idea was to tap into revenues generated by the burgeoning Marcellus shale industry, one that garnered much of the Legislature’s attention the past two sessions.
Kessler said the trip he envisions resulted from legislation that created a job creation task force.
While no date has been set, HB3013 allows him and new House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, to name work groups able to work independently, or in tandem with, the Department of Commerce, the West Virginia Development Office or other executive offices, or state agencies, to get data to help lawmakers attract jobs.
Kessler didn’t name any others who will travel to North Dakota, but Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, says he would like to be part of the entourage.
In fact, Hall, a co-sponsor of SB167, planned to ask the Senate president to include him.
“I think the creation of a West Virginia Future Fund is a great idea,” Hall said.
“I believe we’d be shortsighted and foolish not set aside funding for future generations. Everyone knows how expensive and difficult of a time we have in West Virginia in upgrading and maintaining our infrastructure. This would be a great way to help meet those costs.”
The other 9th District lawmaker, Sen. Mike Green, D-Raleigh, also applauded the concept of using monies generated by natural resources to help the state.
“For far too long, we have been producing immeasurable wealth for those outside of our state and I think anything we can do to ensure we are benefiting from this wealth is a good thing,” Green said.
Green said it is imperative that West Virginia find itself in a better state than before the natural resources were extracted.
“Unfortunately, that has not always been the case,” he said. “As with everything, the devil will be in the detail.”
Miley says he is interested in seeing how the North Dakota fund has worked and that the experience there can be beneficial to West Virginia lawmakers.
“The concept of such a future fund holds tremendous potential, as well as other successes that North Dakota has experienced in managing their energy resources,” he added.
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