LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Senate President Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall, 02) will close out the week in Arkansas where he’ll talk about West Virginia’s Future Fund during a briefing from the Southern States Energy Board. That briefing is being held in conjunction with the Southern Legislative Conference in Little Rock.
“(In the past) We haven’t planned for the long-term future of this state. It’s always been short-term, Band-Aid solutions,” Kessler said. “This will put us on the path of long-term prosperity in using the law of simple economics of supply and demand that West Virginia is sitting on what the rest of the world needs.”
Earlier this year, the Legislature created the West Virginia Future Fund which will serve as a type of endowment fund for the years ahead by banking a portion of present-day severance tax collections on natural resources like coal and natural gas.
As the new law is written, it could be 2019 before the first deposits are made into that account. Any future investment income generated would be earmarked for education, workforce development, economic development, infrastructure or tax relief projects.
Kessler said saving is important. “Had West Virginia just taken one percent, one percent of its severance taxes in 1975 and put it in a savings account, so to speak, we would have $8 billion dollars today.” He said, at a 10 percent interest return rate, that would have added up to $800 million each year for state projects.
“That’s why we’re in the position facing these problems, year after year, decade after decade, is because we haven’t had the good sense to put the money in some type of permanent endowment fund that can be used to do those big projects,” Kessler said.
Kessler will talk about the Future Fund during a Friday morning panel in Little Rock focused on legislative action in states. Florida House Representative Jose Felix Diaz (R) and Missouri House Representative Rocky Miller (R) will also be part of the discussion that Oklahoma House Representative Weldon Watson (R) will moderate.
Nearly 1,000 delegates, legislative staff members and guest are expected to attend this weekend’s Southern Legislative Conference.
Kessler was a guest on Thursday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”