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Kessler Correct About Priorities

November 16, 2011
The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

It wasn't even close when state Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, made his bid to remain as president of the West Virginia State Senate. During a caucus of his fellow Democrat senators, Kessler outpolled rival state Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, by a 17-11 vote.

For most of the year, Kessler had served as acting president. While some observers expected the competition between him and McCabe to be close, Kessler won convincingly.

Such a victory sometimes garners political "capital" for the winner. It may have had that benefit for Kessler, who certainly can use it.

After winning the Senate presidency, Kessler noted he has two top priorities for his fellow lawmakers. First is enacting a set of new rules for gas and oil drilling in the state. That will be difficult, but Kessler is right to view it as a critical task.

But his second priority will be an even tougher challenge. It is addressing the OPEB (other post-employment benefits) issue involving retirees from local and state government.

Paying the cost of such benefits, including health insurance, will be more expensive than many West Virginians realized just a few years ago. It has been estimated the unfunded liablity for OPEB is in the $8 billion range. While much of that money is not needed immediately, it is a daunting long-term challenge for state government.

For more than two years, state officials have known about OPEB, but have been unable to come to agreement on how to address the problem.

Some funding arrangement has to be found, however - and the sooner the better. The longer a funding stream for OBEB is lacking, the worse the liability will grow.

Kessler has demonstrated he has a substantial following in the state Senate, both for his leadership style and his ideas about how state government should function. It needs to be noted the man he defeated for the Senate presidency is not a political nobody. McCabe is very well respected in Charleston.

That makes Kessler's victory even more impressive - and the amount of political "capital" it earned him more valuable. Both on drilling rules and OPEB, his leadership will be vital. We encourage him to use his skills to the utmost in addressing the two problems he rightly has identified as critical concerns for West Virginia.

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