It is truly an honor to return to Charleston for another Legislative Session. It is a privilege represent the wonderful people of the 2nd District as President of the West Virginia Senate. I was pleased with the tone in Governor Tomblin’s State of the State Address Wednesday evening.
As we head into this session it is encouraging to note that West Virginia's finances are stable. From a financial perspective, we compare very favorably with the federal government and other states. Our state annually runs a surplus and is reducing taxes. The food tax, the business franchise tax and the corporate net income tax all declined at the first of the year and we will continue to look at constructive ways to ease the tax burden on families and businesses.
In the coming days we will look at ways to pay down the long-term unfunded liability for health care for retired state and public school employees, also known as OPEB. It is the final unfunded liability the state faces and the Governor’s plan calls for redirecting $30 million a year of personal income tax revenue to pay down the $5 billion OPEB liability, beginning in 2016.
Job creation will always be one of my top priorities and the Governor cited $3 billion of new investment in the state in 2011 by companies including Toyota, Quad Graphics, Caiman Energy and Macy's.
The biggest potential investment on the horizon in 2012 will be a multibillion-dollar ethane cracker plant, using natural gas by-products produced from horizontal drilling in the Marcellus Shale basin. This is an incredible opportunity for our state and I pledge to do everything I can during this session and well beyond to position West Virginia to take full advantage.
I will continue to be a staunch supporter of the coal industry and those that work in the mines. We need to continue to look at ways to make working conditions safer for those brave men and women that mine coal in our state. Without their tremendous work ethic and determination, the nation would not have the energy it needs. We must move forward with the knowledge that coal is going to play a key role in our energy solutions well into the future, but we must also continue to look at other affordable and environmentally friendly energy sources.
While on the subject of jobs and industry, we must understand the vital need for a drug-free workforce in West Virginia. Prescription drug abuse is a problem across our state and it effects all of our citizens on some level. We must take a hard look at drug testing measures as well as programs designed to enhance prescription drug monitoring networks to help prevent abusers from "doctor shopping" for prescriptions.
I would like to conclude by expounding on a point the Governor made in his address. West Virginia government has not been held back by the posturing and partisan politics we see play out on a daily basis in Washington. We are a state that comes together as a proud people, a state that puts our personal differences aside for the betterment of all of us. Over the past year, West Virginia government has dealt with many changes in leadership both nationally and at the state level. Where other states might have slowed to a standstill due to political divisiveness, we have risen above it and emerged better for it.
What could have been a trying 2011 turned into a year in which we lowered taxes, created jobs and set the regulatory framework for drilling in the Marcellus Shale field that will allow us to embark on a new frontier of natural resource opportunity in the state.
It is perhaps the most exciting time in our history to be a West Virginian and there is much more to come. Our state has limitless potential and I am looking forward to helping us reach new heights during this session and well into the future.
If you would like to follow the daily action of the Legislature, visit the 80th Legislature on the web at http://www.legis.state.wv.us/.
I hear your voice and I encourage all of you, regardless of party or affiliation, to contact me with any concerns you have regarding issues facing our district or our state. You can write to me at: Jeffrey V. Kessler, State Senate, Room 227M, Building 1 State Capitol Complex Charleston, WV 25305.