CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill creating the West Virginia Future Fund, a type of endowment fund for the years ahead that would draw on a portion of present-day severance tax collections, could be introduced in the state Senate before the end of the week.
It’s an idea Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 2) is again proposing, as he has done several times at the State Capitol, as way to save some of the additional money the state is collecting through natural gas developments in the Marcellus shale.
Kessler said the state missed a similar opportunity, in the past, when coal was booming. “I tell folks that, had we done this in 1975, just one percent of our severance tax dollars, had we put it in the bank, today we would have near $8 billion dollars.”
There are a lot of ways, he said, the annual interest from that kind of total amount could be spent in the future, more than 20 years from now.
“We need to diversify our economy and this would create a fund where we could do economic diversification, improve our education system, perhaps, even provide a funding source so that we could bring our teachers’ pay up to the regional average,” he said on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”
Kessler’s proposal would annually bank 25 percent of severance tax collections above a baseline amount, set at possibly $150 million or more. Critics, though, have argued the state needs to put the additional revenues to use now.
Last year, Kessler lead a delegation that traveled to Bismarck, North Dakota to learn about the North Dakota Legacy Fund which was created in 2011 for oil and gas tax revenues and reached $1 billion within 20 months.