Future Fund A Good Idea
State Senate President Jeff Kessler has been trying for three years to convince fellow lawmakers West Virginia should be setting aside a nest egg for the future. He believes this may be the year he achieves success.
Kessler, D-Marshall, proposes a “Future Fund” West Virginians could use to spur real progress. His idea is that it could be fed with a portion of state revenue from the natural gas and oil industry.
A few other energy-rich states have established such funds. North Dakota’s Legacy Fund grew to about $1 billion in just 20 months. Last year, Kessler led a group of legislators on a trip to that state to learn how the feat was accomplished.
When Kessler put his proposal into writing last year, his fellow lawmakers were not enthusiastic. The bill died.
There may be more support for it during the legislative session that begins this week. Kessler said Monday he believes Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and House of Delegates Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, will back him on the Future Fund.
But it will not be easy to convince legislators they should be putting money aside. After a few years in which approving budgets was relatively easy because of surpluses, the situation has changed.
Tomblin and lawmakers had to scramble to avoid a deficit in the fiscal year that ended last June 30. Revenue for the current year also is lagging, and there is no reason to believe that will change.
And, as usual when lawmakers go to Charleston for their annual regular session, they are being besieged with requests to spend more money. The state’s two teachers unions already have said they will be asking for pay raises.
If state government is having trouble paying its bills, where is the money for a Future Fund to come from?
Kessler is right, however. At least some of the money from existing taxes on the gas and oil industries should be fed into a Future Fund.
Look at it this way: From an early age, most of us were encouraged to establish savings accounts and contribute to them regularly. The idea, we were told, was to put aside something for the future, even if it wasn’t much.
That should be legislators’ attitude toward Kessler. Let’s establish a Future Fund, even if we can’t afford to put much into it for the next year or so. Like the “Rainy Day” accounts established years ago for emergencies, the Future Fund would grow – possibly providing a pot of cash the state could use to take advantage of an opportunity for growth at a later date.