CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The West Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill Friday to conserve and invest a portion of oil and gas revenues to use for future infrastructure and economic development.
The Future Fund bill sets aside 25 percent of the severance tax revenues collected from private oil and gas companies above a $175 million benchmark. This benchmark projects funds needed to sustain government operations.
The fund would collect interest for six years before being used for economic development projects, building infrastructure and increasing teacher salaries.
Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said he was pleased the bill passed without resistance or rejection. He said he hopes to see the state cash in on a growing oil and gas industry and to reserve some of its excess for future prosperity.
"If we manage these resources a little better than the state has done in the past, I think the state has a real opportunity to maximize the wealth for the people of the state," Kessler said.
"Historically our state has been so rich in natural resources, yet we are at the bottom in personal incomes, the age of our population and education attainment. I don't want to see this continue to happen."
Other mineral-rich states, such as Alaska and Wyoming, save a portion of their revenue from natural resources for future economic growth. Kessler pointed out that Texas funds its entire higher-education system through a similar fund.
The proposed bill dictates that the West Virginia Legislature cannot spend any interest from the Future Fund until 2020. Possible infrastructure projects mentioned in the bill include post-mining land use, water or wastewater facilities and flood control.
The bill moves to the House for action.