Future Fund bill passes finance

WHEELING – A bill establishing the West Virginia Future Fund gets its first reading on the state Senate floor today after unanimously passing out of finance committee on Monday.

Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Glen Dale, first proposed his Future Fund bill in 2011, and he expects this year it could pass the West Virginia Legislature. Kessler also introduced last week a second measure proposing an amendment to the state’s constitution and specifying how dollars placed into the Future Fund can be spent.

“I feel extremely good,” he said. “We’re on course to change the course of our state. This can redefine our future, and that’s what it’s all about. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

Senate Bill 461, the Future Fund bill, stipulates the first $175 million received by the state each year from the oil and natural gas severance taxes would continue to be distributed as normal between the general fund and producing counties. But 25 percent of any revenue received beyond that amount would be placed into an investment fund to accumulate interest.

No money could be spent from the fund until after 2020.

Senate Joint Resolution 14, meanwhile, proposes an amendment to the West Virginia Constitution that would go before the state’s voters in November. The measure would limit spending of the interest dollars by lawmakers to only one of four areas – enhancing education and workforce development; economic development and diversification; infrastructure improvements; and tax relief measures.

Kessler anticipates the Future Fund bill will pass the Senate on Thursday, and then be sent on to the House for consideration. He termed recent discussions about the Future Fund bill with House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, and House members as “positive.”

“Typically, you only worry about bills before your body, but the conversations we’ve had have been favorable,” he said. “There’s some discussion now about how we should spend the money, but we can worry about how to spend it once we get it saved.”