Cumberland Times-News

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November 15, 2011

New West Virginia Senate chief targeting Marcellus, retiree costs

Kessler had been acting president since January

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Tackling public retiree health costs and regulating Marcellus shale drilling are the Legislature’s top priorities, newly elected West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The Marshall County Democrat expressed hope that a special House-Senate committee will make progress Wednesday on the Marcellus front. That special panel has spent months crafting rules meant to oversee development of the vast natural gas reserve.

Those lawmakers expect to vote Wednesday on whether to advance their draft bill for a possible special legislative session.

“I’m very confident that they’ll come up with something and get it out,” Kessler said.

Kessler’s other key issue involves an estimated $8 billion shortfall between on-hand assets and non-pension benefits promised to public employees once they retire.

These other post-employment benefits, or OPEB, mostly reflect health care coverage. States began calculating their OPEB liabilities in the wake of a 2004 national accounting standard.

Kessler, a senator since 1997, also said he expects no major changes to the leadership team he assembled during his nearly yearlong tenure as the body’s acting president.

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