CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice says lots of work is being done behind the scenes to shore up teacher pay and healthcare benefits.
But the governor, speaking today in a news conference that was actually about drug control policy, said the state needs to be careful to use its resources wisely.
The governor said he had spent much of the morning with Senate President Mitch Carmichael and House Speaker Tim Armstead trying to sort through what can be done.
“You will see something come out of the Republicans in the very near future that is going to be a wonderful package,” Justice said.
Justice said he supports a raise and bolstered benefits.
“The bottom line is just this, our teachers need to be paid more money. They do. That’s all there is to it,” Justice said. “We have 700 classrooms in this state without a teacher. It’s bad. We’re not really competitive with other states. Bad. And if you’re that teacher, you’re struggling to get by.”
But the governor said the state still must be careful with its money.
“Now, here’s the real deal. You’ve got to run this state. You’ve got to be prudent in what you do. The one thing we can do that will really just harpoon us is if all of a sudden we get up on top of the wave and we start moving forward and we do things that are going to be trailing with us no matter what happens — and then we find out the wave is not quite as good as what we thought it was. And all of a sudden we slip back into the dire circumstances we had before.”
Justice and his budget team have said the state’s revenue is on the upswing from the budget troubles of the past few years.
That has opened the door to some new spending priorities, in addition to what’s proposed for teachers.
Republicans want to phase out property taxes on industrial manufacturers, which accounts for $140 million a year. Republicans in the Senate have also advanced bills that would provide subsidies for community college education and establish an intermediate appeals court, both accounting for millions of dollars.
Governor Justice also wants to invest millions more in the Department of Commerce and the Division of Tourism.
Hundreds of teachers, mostly from counties in southern West Virginia, flooded into the Capitol on Friday for a rally about pay and healthcare benefits.
Justice has proposed an average 1 percent pay raise that would be on top of teachers’ annual step raises. The Senate amended his bill to specify 1-percent raises each year over the next five years.
Teachers also have focused on healthcare benefits. Within that, they have expressed concern about total family income calculations used to determine premiums. And they have concerns about privacy issues with Go365, which asks participants to fill out wellness journals and penalizes those who don’t reach certain scores.
“The Republicans and I are trying to come up with a plan that’s prudent,” Justice said today. “We’re working diligently right now on PEIA, and we’re working to make this thing better.”
Justice, as he has a few times in recent days, then criticized Democrats.
“Now you have the Democrats running through the streets with a big banner saying ‘We’re for this, we’re for this.’ Well, where were they before? Where were they? And you know what the difference is? Election year. That’s all it is.”
In an earlier interview with MetroNews and on social media, House Minority Tim Miley has taken exception with Justice’s comments about Democrats.
Where were we?? Good grief, if you’d bother looking, you’d know that we passed SB 391 in 2014 which gave teachers and service personnel raises. What‘s happened since?? Republican majority beginning in 2015.
— Tim Miley (@TimMileyWV) February 5, 2018