As this year's legislative session nears its end, it is encouraging to see that West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler's Future Fund bill appears to be on its way to becoming law.
The legislation would set aside a portion of future increases in the state's natural gas severance tax revenue in a permanent investment fund. This fund could bring in an estimated $127 million by the end of fiscal year 2019, according to information from the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy. Lawmakers could begin spending the fund's annual interest for projects or a bond issue in 2020.
The Future Fund bill, already approved by the state Senate, cleared an important hurdle this week when it passed out of the House Judiciary Committee. Its next stop is House Finance, and if all goes well there, the bill will go before the full House for final approval.
But that's not to say something couldn't happen in the session's final days. By midnight Saturday, when the session officially closes, it's possible the legislation either could be changed dramatically or simply get caught up in the wake of other legislation.
That can't be allowed to happen. Far too often, this state's leaders make short-sighted decisions without an eye to the future. The stakes today simply are too high to ignore.
That's why it's imperative that Northern Panhandle House members support the bill and continue to push it toward a vote.
Consider this: If a similar future fund had been established in 1970 with a portion of coal severance tax increases, it would have an $8 billion balance today, Kessler has said. The annual interest from such a fund likely would be enough to pay for the entire $6 billion worth of road projects needed statewide in less than a decade. That type of financial security is hard to ignore.
"History need not be destiny," Kessler wrote in a message to his legislative colleagues upon introducing the legislation.
Indeed. But as history has shown, it won't surprise anyone if the Future Fund bill hits a snag in the next few days. For the sake of our state's future, that can't be allowed to happen. The region's delegates need to keep the push on to pass the Future Fund bill.