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Fund will help W.Va.invest in the future

Some are having a hard time making heads or tails out of Senate Bill 461.

After all, when did government actually start wanting to save money? It spends it really well and has been known to spend money it doesn’t even have.

Better known as the Future Fund Bill, this legislation sets aside a fraction of the state’s oil and gas severance tax revenues for projects down the road.

That fraction is 25 percent of every dollar after the state collects the first $175 million in tax revenues from private oil and gas companies.

The fund would collect interest until 2020 — for six years — before using any of that interest to repave even a single mile of road.

Aside from infrastructure projects, such as roads, flood control, water or wastewater facilities, it could also be used for economic development, post-mining land reclamation and even help enhance public schools funding.

Projections of oil and gas severance tax revenues more than the $175 million benchmark certainly don’t look to be any sort of a fiscal gusher.

The coming fiscal year’s severance tax collections from oil and gas are estimated to be about $176.4 million. That translates into about $350,000 to start the Future Fund.

The interest from that is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but it’s no windfall, either, for now.

Far be it from us to project how this fund would grow in six years and the interest it would generate.

But despite ongoing budget cuts, revenue shortfalls and the deplorable condition of roads today statewide, Future Fund is a good idea.

There are some who advocate going for broke today because where they come from, there may appear to be no tomorrow.

West Virginia, of course, has seen its share of ups and downs in the past 150 years, but there is every reason to believe in our future.

Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall and the Senate president, recently noted if the state had saved 1 percent of its oil and gas severance revenue in the past 40 years it would now be worth about $800 million a year — in the interest alone.

Of course, the primary reason for most of our optimism is the state’s almost limitless wealth of energy resources, especially natural gas.

Future funds are not new. Texas, for instance, funds its entire higher education system with a portion of its gas and oil revenue.

No, we are not Texas and no our state’s Future Fund may never rival that kind of spending.

And the price of natural gas and oil is also hard to call now, let alone years from now.

However, saving for the future is never a coin toss.

 

— From the Feb. 11 Dominion Post

 

 

Don’t ignore experts’ advice

Following Freedom Industries’ leak of 10,000 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk River and the water supply of 300,000 people, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department shut down every restaurant in town.

The department has that authority.

However, had the county and the state adopted the recommendations made by the Chemical Safety Board three years ago, the health department might have had the authority to prevent such a leak.

The chemical board investigated an explosion near the methyl isocyanate plant, which killed two workers, in 2008. After the board made its recommendations public in 2011, Kanawha County officials and a few state officials talked about adopting the recommendations, but nothing came of it.

Ignoring the advice of experts in chemical safety is a gamble no one should take.

One of the recommendations called for giving the health department the power to create a Hazardous Chemical Release Prevention Program. Dr. Rahul Gupta, health director, favors having such a program.

“I call this a preventable crisis,” Gupta said. “Those recommendations were evidence-based.”

To this end, Delegate Stephen Skinner, D-Jefferson, is introducing a bill to incorporate the safety board’s recommendations.

This is not a new program. The safety board based its recommendations on a program that works that Contra Costa County, Calif., adopted in 1999.

Sanitarians in the various county and city health departments routinely inspect every restaurant in their jurisdictions, but no one takes a look at tanks that store industrial chemicals.

While Dr. Gupta has the power to close restaurants in an emergency, he needs the power to avoid such emergencies. Lawmakers should not let another year slide by in making the changes the Chemical Safety Board recommended.

Indeed, lawmakers, industry and safety experts should weed the regulations and toss out the ones that are ineffective burdens on business and society, and replace them with regulations that work.

— From the Feb. 4

Charleston Daily Mail

 

Get teachers’ take on Move to Improve

Lawmakers in Charleston are considering legislation that would mandate an extra 30 minutes a day of exercise for public school students.

Rightly concerned by the state’s obesity problem among young and old, experts told members of the House Education Committee that body and mind are both crucial in developing better students.

The Move to Improve Act, as the legislation is being called, received supportive testimony Thursday and Friday in Charleston.

The bill would require students to have 30 minutes of activity a day. But backers of the bill say this would not subtract from time spent on regular classes, but could be incorporated into those classes even during poor weather when kids can’t go outside.

West Virginia Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Charles Heinlein told lawmakers Friday “the key word is ‘integrated.’ Teachers can integrate (physical activity) without detracting from other subjects.’”

Heinlein said today’s students, while much more tech-savvy than in the past, also have much less active lifestyles than kids from older generations. Because of that, we are seeing even young children with already established weight problems.

Don Chapman of the West Virginia Department of Education said schools can determine the best plan for implementing extra movement during the day. On days when kids can’t go out, he proposed “action-based learning time,” simply moving during instruction, could also be part of the plan.

We believe the issues being raised in the Education Committee warrant some sort of remedial action to get kids moving again.

But we’d like to hear more from teachers on the front line, who of course will be the ones who have to control that class of gyrating kids, and then get them seated and sorted out to get back to more sedentary learning.

A lot of things sound easy in the halls of the state Capitol in Charleston. We’re not sure things will go so smoothly in our local halls of learning.

 

— From the Feb. 2

Register-Herald, Beckley

 

 

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