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Daily Newscasts

‘Invest The Boom’ Proposal For WV Gas Severance Tax Trust Fund

February 24, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - West Virginia could help ease the effects of its chronic natural-resources boom-and-bust cycles by investing part of the revenue from natural-gas drilling.

Projections suggest most natural gas now being drilled in the state will be gone in 30 years. Sean O'Leary, executive director of the West Virginia Center On Budget And Policy, says a 1 percent severance tax could fund hundreds of millions of dollars for job creation, funding now missing in desperate coalfield areas.

"The communities' fortunes fluctuate with the price of coal. We don't want to see that happen to the communities that develop natural gas. The gas won't be there forever. Once we drill it, it'll be extracted - and in a couple of decades it'll be gone and we'll be left wondering, 'Now what do we do?' "

The mineral trust fund plan would increase severance taxes, and tax increases are often attacked as bad for job creation. In this case, however, O'Leary says, the reverse is true.

"The exact opposite of taking away jobs. This can be used to lower taxes on other industries, clean up some of the environmental concerns, revitalize downtown areas, building bridges, roads. Those types of things really help attract jobs."

Unlike some businesses, O'Leary notes, the industry can't move out of state if the taxes go up.

"The gas and the coal, it's here. If you want to produce the gas, you have to do it where the gas is."

Several states have similar mineral trust funds. If West Virginia had starting setting aside 1 percent in coal severance taxes 30 years ago, O'Leary says, the state would have $2 billion in the bank even after having invested $1 billion in job creation.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV