CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A lobbyist for the Independent Oil and Gas Association says there is not much of a financial cushion in West Virginia right now.
Phil Reale, a Charleston attorney, said state officials have few places to look for new revenues since both the coal and gaming industries are on the decline and the list of funding needs in the Mountain State is growing.
“The only one with any real prospect of increase at this time is natural gas. That’s the growing, expanding part of our economy right now,” said Reale.
Because of that, he said state lawmakers will have to carefully weigh the current demands on the state budget with the benefits of saving for the future.
For several years, Senate President Jeff Kessler has proposed the creation of the West Virginia Future Fund and is expected to do so again during next year’s legislative session.
It would set a baseline for severance tax collections and then take part of the amount above that baseline, in the coming years, and automatically bank it for an endowment that could not be tapped into for at least 20 years.
Later this year, Kessler (D-Marshall) will lead a legislative trip to North Dakota to see how that state has saved a portion of the increased tax collections from a boom in the oil industry.
Oil and gas tax revenues go into the North Dakota Legacy Fund which was created in 2011 and now stands at more than $1 billion.
Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said it makes sense. “What if we had done that on coal?” he asked. “We wouldn’t be discussing how we’re going to fix our broken road system. We wouldn’t be discussing how we can repair all the problems that we’re troubled with.”
But Reale says West Virginia already has $1 billion in the Rainy Day Fund and there are immediate road needs, growing costs for college students, state employees who need raises and many other anticipated costs.
“I’m not convinced that we should do it immediately, but I do think it is a debate worth having,” said Reale. “Anytime we’re talking about the future of the state and how we can make it better, I think it’s a good thing for us to do.”
Both Reale and Carper was a guest on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”