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Manchin pitches merits of state bond sale

June 14, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Gov. Joe Manchin was in the Eastern Panhandle on Monday afternoon to drum up support for the sale of up to $5.5 billion in bonds to pay off debt associated with pension plans for state employees.

Voters will be asked whether during a special election June 25 if the state may amend its constitution to permit the issuance and sale of the bonds.

Meeting with a group of local government and business officials at the Martinsburg Holiday Inn, Manchin used the time to diffuse misconceptions about the bond sale.

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Selling such bonds would ensure the state would pay $350 million a year for the next 30 years, saving the state millions of dollars in interest.

Without the bonds, debt payments related to the state's annual pension plan will increase annually, ballooning to $724 million in 2034, according to the governor's office.

The debt came into existence during former Gov. Arch Moore's third term in office, from 1984 to 1988. Moore proposed, and the Legislature agreed, that rather than giving state employees a pay raise, "Cadillac benefit plans" would be created, Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson, has said.

Manchin said Monday that some critics of the bond sale fear the state will simply add more benefits to state pension plans if the bond sale is approved.

Manchin emphasized that no changes in the pensions may be made until the loans are paid off in 2033.

Manchin also emphasized that the bond sale will not result in increased taxes as some people have feared.

The bond sale won't cost state residents "one penny more," and will instead save the state millions of dollars in coming years, according to promotional material handed out by Manchin.

"We're not going to go out and do things you can't justify," Manchin said.

Local government and business officials threw their support behind the proposed bond sale.

Tom Cummings, president of the Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce, presented Manchin with a resolution the chamber approved in support of the bond sale.

Berkeley County Superintendent of Schools Manny Arvon expressed his support for the bond sale, and Martinsburg Mayor George Karos told Manchin he believes the Martinsburg City Council could develop a resolution in support of it.

Supporters of the bond sale say getting the state's finances in order is important because investors are more likely to approve future bond calls for schools or roads if the states finances are healthy.

Manchin emphasized how important it is for the state to continue the widening of W.Va. 9 in the Eastern Panhandle and other projects to keep ahead of the population growth.

"We've got to move forward, and we will move forward," Manchin said.

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