House passes lottery cuts bill

WHEELING – West Virginia voters could see a proposed constitutional amendment before them in November that would set spending constraints on any investment principle gained by the proposed Future Fund.

Wednesday was “Crossover Day” at the Legislature – the 50th day of the 90-day regular session and the last day for approval of bills in their houses of origin.

Among those passing Wednesday were legislation cutting the distribution of lottery revenue to local governments by 15 percent and one of Senate President Jeff Kessler’s two bills establishing a Future Fund from oil and natural gas severance taxes.

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 and investment income.

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

The proposed constitutional amendment bill that passed Wednesday – if approved by voters – would limit spending of the interest and investment income by lawmakers to only one of four areas: enhancing education and workforce development; economic development and diversification; infrastructure improvements; and tax relief measures “for the citizens and businesses of the state.”

Kessler said the last phrase pertaining to tax relief measures was added to the bill just before the Senate passed it.

“It stresses we will have the ability to use the money for tax relief for both citizens and businesses,” he said. “It’s something we like to do, but we don’t always have the money to do.”

The bill to put the amendment before state voters was passed unanimously by the Senate Wednesday.

The Senate already has passed the main Future Fund bill.

Meanwhile, the lottery revenue bill cleared the House by a vote of 72-25. All local delegates voted against it.

The measure cuts the annual distributions of gambling proceeds to city and county governments by 15 percent, and also reduces contributions to dog and horse racing purses and “development funds.”

It provides for about $39 million in annual cuts to lottery revenue spending for the next three years, and about $19 million each year thereafter. It would reduce a statutorily required contribution to the state Infrastructure Fund from $40 million to $20 million through mid-2017.

The measure is intended to help fill a $146 million gap in West Virginia’s 2014-15 budget.