By Brett Dunlap
Jeffrey V. Kessler believes there is an opportunity to build up the state's finances to handle all its responsibilities with the proper development of the Marcellus Shale deposit.
Kessler, the Marshall County Democrat who has served as the acting state Senate president over the last session, was in Parkersburg Tuesday to talk to people about his candidacy for governor.
''I am the only guy from the northern part of the state,'' he said of how many of the candidates running for governor are from the more southern parts of the state. ''I believe I have the experience.
''I have heard a lot of people talking about what has been done and where we are. My vision for the state is I want to talk about where do we want to be 10 years from now.''
Kessler said he wants to put the pieces in place now that can have long-term benefits for the state down the road as the state is beginning to see the potential benefits from the Marcellus Shale natural gas deposit and developing this resource.
''I think this Marcellus Shale deposit will create an enormous opportunity to create wealth in this state for the people of this state,'' Kessler said.
As the country begins to come out of the recession, energy will be an important resource in that process, he said.
''We are sitting on a motherload of it with coal,'' Kessler said. ''Like it or not, coal is still used in over 60 percent of this nation's energy.
''It is not going anywhere. There is no viable alternative over the next couple of decades. Coal will be a viable component as will natural gas from this Marcellus Shale deposit.''
West Virginia is in a prime position to benefit from the Marcellus Shale deposit and not give away certain rights like the state had originally done with many of its coal rights in the 19th and 20th centuries, Kessler said.
''That is what happened; they didn't do anything to reinvest any money into their future,'' Kessler said.
He wants to create a fund where certain money from Marcellus Shale development and processing is reinvested back into the state.
''I want the state to take a portion of the increased severance dollars from the anticipated boom we are expecting from the Marcellus and put it in a fund where you can't touch it for 20 years,'' Kessler said of it being something similar to what was done in Alaska with oil and the creation of a permanent endowment fund. ''There is no reason we can't do something like this here.
''At the end of the day, there are only going to be so many opportunities we will have to dig ourselves out of the situation we are in.''
With unfunded liabilities, such as Other Post-Employment Benefits (OPEB), the state will have to come up with some way of addressing it, he said.
''That could be an enormous ticket to do it,'' Kessler said of Marcellus Shale. ''We would be able to put money aside, save it for our future diversification, pay down all of our long-term obligations and get those taken care of and then have that money available for workforce development of our future generations.''
If the state had put a penny on each ton of coal mined over 50 years ago and put that money in the bank, the state could of had a lot of money available over the years, Kessler said.
''We did not have the wisdom, courage or foresight to do it with the coal boom,'' Kessler said. ''We have an opportunity here. We need to seize it and act on it.''
Money could be used to hire more inspectors to protect groundwater and other concerns as companies tap into the Marcellus Shale deposit, he said.
Eight Republicans and six Democrats are vying to fill the unexpired term of former Gov. Joe Manchin. A special primary election will be held May 14 with the special general election set for Oct. 4.
The state is mostly in good financial shape compared to some of the surrounding states, he said.
''We have a chance now,'' Kessler said. ''We are in the game now and have a chance to break away from the pack.
''We have a golden opportunity to do that. We have to be bold and not be afraid to try it.''