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.
Laws to keep mudslinging to minimum can stife free speech
By nature, and by profession, we do not like lies. As journalists, we’re truth tellers. Or at least we attempt to get at the truth through research, attribution, documents and comments from people on either side of an issue.
Sometimes it ends up with “telling lies from both sides,” as a crusty reporter once mused a handful of years ago.
COLUMN: Freedom of Information — if you can pay
Several years ago, I made a Freedom of Information request to a local government agency. Within the five business days, as required by law, a packet of information was delivered to the office. I expected a bill, as most government offices have a charge that ranges from 25 cents to $1.25 per page for copies of the documents we request.
The reassuring spirit of Easter: One of new hope and beginnings
During the sub-zero and snow-filled months of winter, we maintained a spirit of hope that spring was on the way. It has now become a reality as all nature stretches and yawns and awakens once more to a new beginning. The fragrance of spring awakens our waiting nostrils, the budding beauty of new life brightens our eyes, and the reassuring idea of renewal stimulates our minds.
Unsung heroes handling calls in emergencies are appreciated
Thankfully, we live in a community where help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just by dialing three numbers — 9-1-1.
During this week, which is recognized as National Public Safety Tele-Communicator’s Week nationwide, we need to remember that on the other end of that line are the men and women here in this county who are always there in case of accident, crimes, medical emergencies and any other catastrophic event.
Message to ‘buckle up and park the phone’ is saving lives
A figure that we haven’t seen that much in recent years is the highway death toll for a given period.
Is the death toll up, down or just about the same as it was?
The West Virginia Southern Regional Highway Safety Program has announced there were 325 highway fatalities in 2013, the second-lowest number on record.
State native Burwell can ‘deliver results’ as Health and Human Services secretary
Sylvia Mathews Burwell might not be a name with which most people are immediately familiar.
For the past year, she has run the budget office under President Barack Obama.
Prior to that, she served as president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Development Program and later the Wal-Mart Foundation.
Marion scores well in recent health report but could do better
When it comes to area-wide studies, especially on health, there’s usually good news and bad news.
So was the recent report on the health of America’s counties released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently. The nationwide county study evaluated health outcomes and health factors, and ranked counties accordingly.
COLUMN: ‘Instant’ news not always reliable
That little word has a pretty big meaning. With origins that date back to the 15th century, it means urgent, current, immediate.
But think about how that word has developed over the past few decades.
Instant pudding. Instead of slaving over a hot stove for a few minutes, you can now pour cold milk and with a bit of stirring, instant pudding!
Decision to be an organ donor can save lives
Chelsea Clair watched as her father died waiting for a bone marrow transplant.
So when she met Kyle Froelich at a car show in 2009 and heard about his struggles to find a kidney that would match his unique needs, she never hesitated to offer hers to the man she just met.
Volunteers continue to have priceless impact on community
Chances are, you know someone who volunteers. Perhaps you’re a volunteer yourself.
Marion County is full of volunteers.
They read to our youth.
They assist nonprofit agencies.
They serve on boards and committees.
And in 2013, they spent a day picking up nearly 10 tons of garbage that had been tossed out on public property around Marion County.
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