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Former coal towns also may benefit from future fund

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The future of West Virginia prosperity may lie in gas extraction, but Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, says that the resource — and the towns — that helped fuel the Mountain State shouldn't be forgotten.

In fact, he proposes that a portion of Future Funds that come from severance taxes should be earmarked to help aid the former coal boom towns and communities.

"We do need to give a portion of the additional money back to the counties of origin that produce the gas, like we have done with the coal severance tax," Kessler said recently. "We could give them a little extra bump to help counties that produce it.

"But I'd like to give an additional percentage back to the counties of historical energy production. Just because we may have missed the boat in coal-producing counties in the past, we could give them an opportunity to lift themselves up by the bootstraps with this new energy resource to help diversify their economies."

Counties that stand to benefit the most from gas extraction in West Virginia are northern, which differs from the mostly southern coal counties. 

"It isn't like we are going to suck it up all to those counties that are making it up in the north and North Central West Virginia," Kessler said. "I want to see a portion of it go back to those who helped us do so much for the state.

"It's going to help all of West Virginia, every single county and every single person."

A bill to create a future fund is expected to be introduced again in the 2014 legislative session, but its adoption would need a constitutional amendment.

"We can set it up statutorily, the framework of it," Kessler said. "We will need some constitutional controls on how we spend it, so the legislatures, when they start seeing the monies come in, can't just grab it and spend it. 

"You have to dedicate it, as mandated by the voters," he added. "It can only be used for infrastructure, economic development, educational enhancement. … It is to improve the state's lot in the long term, rather than pet projects here or here. We must set up limited areas in which it can be spent. 

"It will help the entire economy to create wealth for the entire state."