The session winds down

March 04, 2004

With 10 days left in the West Virginia Legislature's 60-day session, Gov. Bob Wise will apparently not be able to enact many of the measures he hoped would pass in his final year in office.

But just because Wise is a lame duck doesn't mean some of these ideas shouldn't get a hearing in future sessions.

Wise decided not to run for another term after it was revealed that he'd had an extramarital affair. Nevertheless, Wise put together an ambitious legislative agenda for his last go-round in Charleston.

Not only did the governor press for measures to update the laws regulating the insurance industry, he also pushed for a 20-cent increase in the cigarette tax and a plan to issue bonds that would give the state immediate access to future payments on the national tobacco settlement.


On the insurance issue, an amended version of the governor's proposal to set up an anti-fraud unit passed the senate Feb. 26. The House acted earlier, passing the bill as proposed, so there may be some work to do to reconcile the two.

The governor hasn't fared as well with his plan to raise state cigarette taxes from 55 to 75 cents per pack

Neither chamber has considered the idea, perhaps because revenues from the national tobacco settlement dropped last year, in part because consumers opted for cheaper independent brands made by companies not part of the settlement.

The Associated Press reports that the thought behind the proposal is that the state would issue bonds, which would shift the risk of diminishing payments to investors. It would also provide the state with money immediately, rather than over time.

The downside is that the price of getting cash now will be less money ultimately, since the state will have to repay the bonds.

Under the House version of the bill, the proceeds would be used to ease deficits in the State Police and judicial pension plans, as well as the teacher retirement fund and the Workers' Compensation system.

Unfortunately, none of these activities would provide any revenue to retire the bonds. We're concerned that once this infusion of cash is gone, the state will again be dealing with a number of underfunded retirement and disability programs.

Why not devote a percentage of the cash to economic development? In exchange for a tax break now, companies might be enticed to create jobs and businesses that will pay taxes in the future.

The job-creation portion shouldn't be limited to new companies, since existing firms traditionally are the source of most job growth. Plugging the holes in state pension plans is necessary, but so is finding revenue for a time when the tobacco settlement money is gone.

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