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.
State must convince parents, schools about benefits of Common Core
It’s always nice to have a little bit of background information before diving into something new.
So we have to agree with West Virginia Board of Education president Gayle Manchin when she says the state should have done a better job of explaining Common Core standards when they were first introduced.
Those standards, part of a national educational initiative that sets learning goals designed to prepare students in kindergarten through 12th grade for college and career, will be fully implemented in every West Virginia school district next month.
Time is now for Tomblin to support King Coal Highway
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., is asking Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to add the King Coal Highway project to West Virginia’s six-year highway improvement plan. It is a logical request, and one that Tomblin should act promptly on.
United effort to keep NASA in Fairmont is essential project
The high-technology sector is obviously vital to the economy of North Central West Virginia.
That’s why a strong, united effort to keep the NASA Independent Verification and Validation Program in Fairmont is absolutely essential.
COLUMN: Calling all readers: Be heard
I love to talk to readers.
I love to hear concerns they have about stories we’ve written, things they think should be included in the newspaper and things they think shouldn’t be.
Korean War veterans are deserving of a memorial
NEEDED: A total of $10,000 for the Korean War Memorial this year.
And a good man has been placed in charge of the funding. Charlie Reese, former president of the Marion County Chamber of Commerce, is now director of the Marion County Development Office. His task was to make a recommendation as to what steps are necessary to keep the project moving.
Roll up your sleeves, give blood and you can save lives
It takes up to 100 units of blood to save the life of someone who sustains life-threatening injuries in a vehicle accident.
We’re hoping that the number of people who come to Fairmont Senior High School on Friday for and American Red Cross blood drive will exceed that amount.
Vehicles and motorcycles must share the road safely
The days are long. The weather is superb. There’s plenty of leisure time in these lazy days of summer.
It’s the perfect time to take a long motorcycle ride.
It’s also the perfect opportunity for us to take the time to remind not only riders but drivers of the need to share the road. And we feel compelled to mention it because just within the month of July, there have been two motorcycle-versus-car accidents within the City of Fairmont alone — one with severe injuries sustained by the motorcyclist and the other with less serious injury.
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Distracted driving: It isn’t worth fine or a life
Today marks the day that police agencies from six states are joining forces to crack down on one thing — distracted driving.
And they will focus on that traffic violation for a solid week, with the stepped-up effort to curb distracted driving wrapping up on Saturday, July 26.
COLUMN: Are we people watchers or people judgers?
Let me tell you about my little friend Robby. Well, actually, it’s more about his family and especially his mom. I didn’t get her name. I heard Robby’s name quite a bit, though, during a trip home from Birmingham, Alabama.
I noticed the family in the Birmingham airport immediately. They were just the kind of family you’d notice.
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