Published: November 29, 2010 10:00 AM
By Mannix Porterfield
Quietly, behind the scenes, far removed from the political shuffling prompted by this month’s election, a select panel is pursuing a means to erase the red ink in Other Post-Employment Benefits — a liability that exceeds $7 billion.
Draft legislation could be ready for lawmakers to start pondering by the start of January interims that are followed a day later by the launch of the 2011 session.
“We’re actually making progress on that,” Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, said in an interview last week.
McCabe heads the special ad hoc committee named last winter to seek a resolution to the burgeoning debt.
“We’re in the process of trying to put together some draft legislation,” he said.
“We do not expect to have it ready as an interims bill. If we got lucky, it might be. To be realistic, it probably won’t get agreement until sometime early in the session.”
OPEB consists largely of medical bills incurred by retired state employees, but the list of stakeholders isn’t limited to them.
“It’s a big group — retirees, school boards, universities, current employees, teachers, school service personnel,” McCabe said.
“The problem we have is that different groups have certain city and county employees. Different stakeholders have different perspectives and not all of them are consistent with each other.”
McCabe said the task force hopes to have “acceptable legislation” to be offered in both houses by mid-January, giving lawmakers ample time to debate it before the session closes out in March.
“We’ve been given just a tremendous amount of information, a good bit of suggestions, and we’re now in the process of sorting through it and trying to formulate it into some draft legislation which we will, as soon as possible, make available to committee members,” he said.
“As soon as they’ve seen it, we will circulate it to all the stakeholders.”
That done, stakeholders will be called on to consider it a first draft and report back to the panel for suggested additions, deletions or rewrites.
Once the step in the process is completed, McCabe said, the committee likely will release the contents of the proposed bill to the public.
“If we have a chance for a quick rewrite before we release it, we might do that,” he said.
“But we’ll get it out as quickly as we can. It’s not to be something in the backrooms. We’ll get this out.”
Without elaborating, McCabe said some ideas are under consideration that could trim the debt “hopefully, significantly.”
“I’m relatively optimistic, to tell you the truth,” he said.
“I know it looks like a lot of activity and nothing coming out of it. We’re now at the point where we should have a product that will be defensible in the not-too-distant future. We are making progress, believe it or not.”