Columns/Opinion, Letters to the Editor

PEIA needs a secure stream of revenue

Moira Reilly, Morgantown

This month, our elected officials have been hard at work on the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) Task Force, seeking to balance its budget, to the tune of $50 million annually.
West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael led 22 state senators to vote down a proposal from Sen.Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, which would have funded teachers’ health care through an increased severance tax on natural gas extracted in our state. They said the natural gas market is “too volatile” to provide adequate, secure funding into the future. What foresight.

So now what? Acknowledging this legitimate concern (which may or may not be connected to the fact that these 22 senators have collectively received over $140,000 from oil and gas companies in the form of campaign contributions, according to the secretary of state), Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, is proposing a production fee for natural gas extraction, which would not be at the mercy of the market, in contrast to gas prices and the subsequent severance tax.

Revenue from this fee could then be deposited in a West Virginia Trust Fund, such as Ted Boettner, executive director of the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy, advocates, where it could compound over time, securing this funding stream in perpetuity.

For years, West Virginians neglected to reap the full financial benefit of the black gold extracted so painstakingly from our hills. Let’s not make this mistake again.

Just as the people of West Virginia should be fairly compensated for these resources, our public school teachers need to be fairly compensated for the time, energy and talent they invest in our children, who are our future. What are we waiting for?