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Some House candidates keener than others on Future Fund

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Candidates from Kanawha County's 35th and 37th House of Delegates districts said they all support -- with varying degrees of enthusiasm -- using a portion of coal and natural gas severance taxes to create a state trust fund, commonly called a Future Fund.

Delegate Meshea Poore, D-Kanawha, running for re-election in the 37th District, said the state has an opportunity to capitalize on the burgeoning Marcellus Shale industry, something it failed to do generations earlier with coal mining.

"We have to take ownership," she said. "We don't have to continue to allow ourselves to be taken advantage of."

Chris Morris, a former state tax commissioner making his first bid for the House's 35th District, noted that coal and natural gas production are cyclical.

"The responsible thing is to take a portion of severance taxes to set aside for down cycles," said Morris, a Democrat who served under former Govs. Bob Wise and Joe Manchin.

Delegate Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, running for re-election in the 35th, said the trust fund is a good idea, as long as it can be used to benefit the state.

"We need to make sure it's not like the Rainy Day fund, where we have all this money out there but we can't touch it," Skaff said. West Virginia has more than $850 million in its Rainy Day funds, but the money can be allocated only in the event of statewide natural or fiscal disasters.

John McCuskey, a Republican candidate in the 35th, gave a qualified yes to a Future Fund, so long as it does not detract from his primary goal of making West Virginia more business-friendly.

"Successful industry does not oppose taxation," said perennial Republican House candidate Fred Joseph, adding, "What disgusts businesses ... is what's done with their funds after they're collected."

Republican 35th District hopeful Suzette Raines said she supports a Future Fund, noting, "This is an investment in our state I think these companies are going to be proud to make."

Candidates in the 35th, which includes the western portion of the old 32nd House District including South Charleston, Dunbar, St. Albans and part of Charleston; and the 37th, made up of the flats of Charleston's downtown, East End and West Side, met with Gazette editors Wednesday.

Mountain Party candidate Derrick Shaffer, who is opposing Poore in the 37th, was the only candidate who did not attend.

Incumbent Delegate Bonnie Brown, D-Kanawha, said she is seeking a 12th term in the House because of key issues facing the Legislature, including public education reform, enacting rules for last year's Marcellus Shale drilling legislation, the potential expansion of Medicaid coverage, and development of a state-managed health insurance exchange.

"I see things that are exciting, things we need to do, and things I want to continue working on," she said.

Delegate Bobbie Hatfield, D-Kanawha, said health care -- particularly assuring that children and families have access to the health care they need -- remains her key issue.

She said the state also needs to continue efforts for work force development though high school vocational programs, and at community and technical colleges.

"We have positioned ourselves for new jobs coming into West Virginia, and we need to continue that," she said.

Delegate Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said he is seeking a second term in the House to continue to provide his business acumen and ability to encourage bipartisan cooperation in the Legislature.

Nelson said his key issue would continue to be job creation.

"We've got to have the right legal and tax structure, and regulatory structure in the state," he said.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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