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Kessler Proposes W.Va. Futures Fund for 2012

January 24, 2012
By JOSELYN KING Political Writer , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

CHARLESTON - West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler still believes the state must set aside money it gets from today's Marcellus Shale boom to pay for future needs.

Kessler, D-Marshall, has again introduced Senate Bill 182, a measure creating the West Virginia Futures Fund. It has been assigned to the Senate Economic Development Committee, and upon passage it would go to the Finance Committee before coming to a full vote in the Senate.

Kessler could not be reached for comment Monday.

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Under his legislation, 25 percent of revenue coming to West Virginia as a result of Marcellus Shale drilling would be placed in the account, with the measure encouraging lawmakers to allocate additional dollars to the fund. Within the bill's language, the Legislature declares does not intend to encumber or use dollars from the fund for at least 20 years.

The legislation, however, doesn't specify a use for the money; it intentionally leaves spending questions open to address the future needs of West Virginia. The bill suggests future expenditures could be for diversification of the state's economy, tax relief, enhancing education and work force development.

Kessler's bill is similar to one he proposed during the 2011 legislative session. That bill died in the Finance Committee. Kessler based his legislation on a system presently in use in Alaska that pertains to revenue from oil drilling.

In Alaska, government officials are required by constitutional amendment to set aside tax dollars generated by oil production in a separate fund that can't easily be touched by lawmakers. Withdrawing funds from the budget reserve into the general fund requires a 3/4 vote of each house of the Alaskan legislature and must be repaid.

The Constitutional Budget Reserve was established in Alaska to provide cash to continue government services during times of falling oil prices.

Established along with the budget reserve fund was the Alaska Permanent Fund, which provides each eligible Alaska resident with a share of the annual oil tax collections. Last year, the fund had a $35.7 billion savings account, and Alaskans each received a payout of $1,281, according to information provided by the Alaska Permanent Fund division of the State Department of Revenue.

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