CITIES in West Virginia face many challenges but none is bigger than the Legislature, whose manipulation of the panels that run city pension funds are the main reason why pension funds in Charleston and Huntington are worse off than Detroit's.State law essentially gives employees — not the public — a majority on the pension boards. Good luck trying to rein in pension costs under those conditions. In August, the Washington Examiner looked at city pension funds across the nation."Charleston has the worst-funded pension system of any major city in the United States, with only 24 percent of the necessary funds to cover more than $337 million in pension debt," the Examiner reported.Thank you, state legislators for not allowing cities to have pension funds that keep costs within the means of the taxpayers.
The Legislature doubled down on the problem by hampering the ability of cities to raise revenues to pay those pensions. For five years, though, it has allowed home rule, which means Charleston, Huntington and two other cities can impose a weekly user fee and more recently a small sales tax.But those four cities must apply this spring for permission to continue their limited home rule, along with 15 other cities who will be "approved" for an expanded home rule program. But lawmakers attached a string to next year's application that could become a noose around Charleston's civic throat.At the behest of Delegate Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, the home rule legislation requires that the city give up its ordinance that limits gun purchases within the city limits. For more than 20 years, this ordinance has thwarted attempts at extending the guns-for-drugs trade to Charleston. The ordinance passes constitutional muster at both the state and federal levels. Restricting — not banning — gun purchases has helped make the city safer.Requiring Charleston to give up this ordinance will make the city less safe. In the 2014 session, lawmakers should remove all restrictions on home rule. Charleston and every other city should not need the state's permission to run their city's government.