West Virginia is basking in its status as a national leader.
When Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed a bill into law Monday, West Virginia became the first state in the country to have a comprehensive plan in place to address the debt created by health-care costs for future state retirees. These costs are called OPEB, which stands for Other Post-Employment Benefits.
It had been mandated that government employers pay annual amounts toward the funding shortfall or else list those amounts on their books as debts. At least three-fourths of the states, though, continue the pay-as-you-go approach toward these debts that preceded the 2004 accounting standard, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The West Virginia legislation will shift an estimated $820 million previously charged to county school boards for OPEB costs. Tomblin said it will also save the school boards $485 million in future payments.
The bill also adds to state law the decision by the Public Employees Insurance Agency to stop subsidizing the health-care premiums of retirees. That halt starts with employees hired after June 2010. The measure also reserves $5 million annually to fund a possible future incentive for these post-subsidy hires.
PEIA cut the estimated OPEB shortfall in half, from $10 billion to $5 billion, by agreeing in December to cap the annual growth of premium subsidies at 3 percent. The follow-up legislation aims to close the remaining funding gap by 2036.
“We in West Virginia are the first to solve it,” Tomblin said at a bill-signing ceremony. “We take the last step toward ending our long-term debts.”
The governor labeled the legislation “a monumental step forward.”
Under the plan, $30 million now taken from the personal income tax to pay off the old workers’ compensation debt will go toward OPEB, beginning in four years.
Tomblin, former Senate finance chairman, pointed out a 40-year plan was devised to pay off the teachers’ retirement debt.
“OPEB will be solved in half that time,” he said.
“Ratings agencies will look more favorable on West Virginia as we institute a plan to pay off OPEB.”
Boards of education will now have more funds to cover immediate needs in the school systems across the state.
“This legislation already has the rest of the nation looking at us,” Tomblin said.
“States seek to follow our footsteps. This legislation is about the future of our children.”
“We’re leading the charge,” Senate President Jeffrey Kessler, D-Marshall, said. “We’re getting things done. We have all long-term debts in order. That’s going to have huge dividends for the state of West Virginia, for my children and my grandchildren. Money used to pay for sins of the past will no longer be required to do that. We can look at other needs.”
We’re confident these needed changes to OPEB will mean a better-funded and stronger school system.
As we’ve stressed over the years, any talk of a better, more prosperous West Virginia starts with education.
Gov. Tomblin, leadership in the West Virginia House and Senate, and the Marion County delegation of Sen. Roman Prezioso (Finance Committee chairman) and Delegates Mike Caputo (majority whip), Tim Manchin (Finance Committee) and Linda Longstreth deserve credit for working together to solve the OPEB liability problem.
West Virginia is basking in its status as a national leader.
Some patience will be helpful as new school calendar is set
The forecast is calling for another few inches of snow this evening. We all know what that could mean — a messy morning commute, changes in plans, rescheduling and that call that will inevitably come. School will be cancelled.
‘Pothole blitz’ badly needed service coming in West Virginia
Hopefully, the heavy snow and extremely cold weather of January, February and early March are in the past.
Remnants of the harsh winter, though, remain. They’re faced each day by the state’s drivers.
Potholes have West Virginia’s roads in their worst condition in years, and the damaging freeze-thaw cycle is not over.
‘The issues are complicated’ with e-cigarettes
E-cigarettes have been around for about seven years.
But you’d be shocked at how long the idea for the the tobacco-less product has been around.
“A primitive, battery-operated ‘smokeless non-tobacco cigarette’ was patented as early as 1963 and described in Popular Mechanics in 1965,” Megan McArdle wrote for Business Week last monty.
Coal industry can’t afford to give this administration and EPA more ammunition
Coal already has a bad name in Washington, D.C.
The whole industry got another black eye this week when Alpha Natural Resources Inc., one of the country’s largest coal producers, agreed to pay a $27.5 million fine and invest $200 million to reduce illegal water pollution in five states, including West Virginia.
Being observant, reporting suspicions can make difference for hurting children
If a child is hurting, we wouldn’t hesitate to help.
Or would we?
In a five-year span, 22,830 children were victims of some type of neglect or abuse in West Virginia. That’s an overwhelming number to think about.
Gee makes major impact and earns another term as WVU president
Let’s imagine that a graduate from West Virginia University in the early 1980s, when E. Gordon Gee was president, came back to get an extra degree now and couldn’t believe that E. Gordon Gee is “still” the president of WVU.
Effort to encourage purchase of goods produced in U.S. deserves support
The concept of encouraging the purchase of American-made products is certainly not new.
On the federal level, the Buy American Act was passed in 1933 by Congress and signed by President Herbert Hoover. It required the United States government to prefer U.S.-made products in its purchases.
‘Stop Meth, Not Meds’ backed by readers
In West Virginia, there is something referred to as “stop-sale technology” that prevents a person from going to more than one pharmacy to purchase over-the-counter medication that contains the active ingredient pseudoephedrine, a nasal decongestant.
It’s not an issue of stuffy noses that lawmakers were worried about when they created the system.
Even small steps play part in critical mission to reduce childhood obesity
Just two years ago, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese, meaning they had excess body weight based on their height.
It’s a troubling statistic, and one that health officials have worked diligently to reverse.
Cutting-edge heart procedure at Mon General is saving lives
“I used to think I wouldn’t live to be 50. Well, I made it to 50 and then some,” Pearl Walls said.
Walls is likely alive today and able to tell her story to the Times West Virginian because of a cutting-edge procedure performed at Monongalia General Hospital — a Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR), which was only approved for use by the FDA in 2011.
- More Opinion Headlines
- Some patience will be helpful as new school calendar is set