What veteran state lawmakers call the last great unfunded liability for the state now has a pay-off plan and is one step closer to being signed into law. The House of Delegates passed the OPEB bill Thursday.
OPEB, Other Post-Employment Benefits, is what the state has to list as debt when it comes to health care costs for future state retirees. The state's remaining debt is about $5 billion. The bill, which passed the House 83-17, sets up a 24-year payment plan beginning in 2016. The state will pay $30 million a year.
Opponents of the bill spoke out again Thursday. Most say they agree with the pay-off plan but don't like several other provisions in the bill.
Del. Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, predicted the measure will be declared unconstitutional because the state is paying off the OPEB debt for county boards of education, but it's not actually distributing the money to those boards as the state constitution requires.
Del. Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said the legislature has chosen to "tap dance" on the issue of the school boards' debt.
House Finance Committee Chairman Harry Keith White, D-Mingo, says the state constitution allows the legislature to take care of county debts but instead of giving the money to the counties and then getting it right back, a trust fund will be established.
"We create a trust fund that we're making those payments into (for the county school boards) that guarantee that long term unfunded liability," White said.
House Minority Leader Tim Armstead voted against the bill. He doesn't like the 12 health care cost-containment measures it includes. Armstead says they sound a lot like Obamacare.
"We don't know what the impact will be on the retirees, the amounts they will pay. We don't know what the impact will be on our hospitals. We don't know what the impact will be on the State of West Virginia, on our budget," Armstead said.
Marshall County Del. Scott Varner criticized the opponents because he says the provisions they are complaining about were in last year's OPEB bill they voted for.
"Maybe they didn't realize they were in there. Maybe they didn't read the amendment. I can't answer that," Varner said.
The state Senate passed the bill last week but must sign-off on the House's work, which will likely take place during Friday's floor session. After that the measure will head to the desk of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin where he is expected to sign it into law.