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On bond plan, citizens need an impartial, outside opinion

April 26, 2005

Should West Virginia sell $5.5 billion in bonds to shore up the state's pension funds?

Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat, says yes. Kris Warner, the chairman of the state Republican Party, opposes the idea.

Both have good arguments for their positions. Reluctant as we are to recommend outside consultants, this time citizens need the opinion of a person or group who won't have a political stake in the outcome.

Manchin wants to issue the bonds to free the state's general fund from a court-ordered plan to fully fund the pension plans.

Without the bond, Manchin argues, the general fund's payments to those plans will increase from $340 million this year to $600 million by 2034.

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For his part, Warner notes that the Census Bureau has projected that West Virginia will lose 88,000 residents in the next 25 years. He said that means those who stay will pay a larger share of the debt and that taxes will have to be raised.

Manchin got some support from Del. Mike Hall, a Putnam County Republican who told The Associated Press that without the bond issue, taxes are more likely to increase.

Who is right? It's urgent that an answer be found because voters will be asked to decide in a June 25 special election.

Depending on who's right, the outcome of the vote could affect tax bills for years to come.

What West Virginians need is some expertise from an outside agency or consultant who will have no stake in the outcome, including the sale of bonds.

Without that help, citizens may find they have little basis on which to cast their ballots.

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