GLEN DALE - West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler will lead a delegation of state lawmakers to North Dakota this summer to learn more about that state's efforts to set aside severance tax dollars generated by the oil and gas industry.
Kessler, D-Marshall, has advocated creation of a similar West Virginia Future Fund. He said North Dakota leaders started their North Dakota Legacy Fund in 2009, and it has generated about $1.3 billion in the last four years.
Kessler's idea for the West Virginia Future Fund would hold back 25 percent of severance tax dollars resulting from production of Marcellus shale gas and oil in West Virginia. It would place the money in an interest-bearing, special revenue account. The principal and interest of the Future Fund then would be encumbered for 20 years to ensure its growth.
"Sometimes it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel," Kessler said. "They (North Dakota leaders) can tell us how to implement this fund without the hiccups they experienced themselves. We can find out firsthand what obstacles they encountered, bring back information and see if this kind of fund is worthwhile here. If we ask them if they have any regrets, I suspect they will tell us they only wish that had done it sooner."
The date of the trip has yet to be established, but it won't be until members of a job creation work group are selected from members of the West Virginia Legislature, according to Kessler's office.
House Bill 3013, passed this year, permits establishment of job creation work groups to obtain information to assist the Legislature's efforts to take effective action to increase jobs in West Virginia.
Kessler expects the trip to include a one-night stay for lawmakers that will cost the state about $1,000 per legislator for travel and lodging.
He anticipates 10-12 members will participate.
Kessler added that House Speaker Tim Miley, D-Harrison, has expressed interest in taking the trip.
"This is not a junket to the beach," he said. "We are going to fly in and fly out. ... If this trip results in our enacting legislation that generates billions of dollars for the state, the cost is a drop in the bucket and money well spent."
Kessler also knows that to pass any legislation establishing a West Virginia Future Fund, he will need the support of legislators from all over the state. He is especially seeking input from those representing southern coal-producing counties.
"We need their perspective because they already have seen the boom and bust of the coal industry and they didn't take the savings measures there before the coal was gone," he said. "McDowell County used to have a population of more than 100,000 people, and now it is less than 20,000.
"We don't want to see the same thing happen with the gas industry," he continued. "We want to make sure when gas is gone, we are not left without any means for our economy."