Today, we’re taking a fresh look at just what big money will buy you in the West Virginia State Senate.
West Virginia is in a period of crisis right now. The public school systems in all 55 of our counties have been shut down by striking public employees and teachers who have been driven off the job by ever-worsening pay and insurance benefits through the PEIA system.
One dedicated Senator, a former US Army Airborne combat veteran named Richard Ojeda, proposed a simple fix to this: Raise the severance tax on natural gas to match other energy-producing states.
A look at the numbers on this proposal would suggest it to be a fair one. West Virginia’s gas severance tax of 5% is extremely low compared to other energy-intensive states. The national average is around 8%. Oklahoma for example charges 7%, Texas 7.5%, and the scale goes all the way up to Alaska at 35%. Senator Ojeda’s proposal would have set West Virginia’s rate at 7.5%, and provided a reliable stream of income that is needed to stabilize the PEIA system.
The proposal had broad support among public employees and many others across the state, and an examination of the gas prices in West Virginia and Pennsylvania as posted by the federal US Energy Information Administration shows that even with such an increase, West Virginia gas would still be priced almost 10% lower than that of our competing neighbor.
It seemed like a good deal to everybody…everybody except the out-of-state gas companies that own our legislature, that is.
The bill, Senate Bill 486, was asked to be brought to the Senate floor on Tuesday, February 27th. 22 Senators voted to consign that bill to oblivion.
We decided to look into the campaign finances from their last election, to see why they might make that choice, and here’s what we found:
Between those 22 Senators, gas and energy companies, along with their corporate lawyers, spent more than $141,000 in campaign contributions, to buy this and other votes. Here are the numbers. You be the judge.