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Senator Bob Beach (D – Monongalia, 13)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State Senator Bob Beach (D – Monongalia, 13) said he’ll support a teacher pay raise greater than one percent, and he believes a resolution could still come out of Charleston before localized demonstrations become a statewide movement or work stoppage

“I believe the leadership in the Legislature and the Governor have a figure out there where they believe that this could end, but I don’t think they want to be pushed and give up that number until they absolutely have to,” he said Monday on WAJR’s Morgantown AM.

The State Senate unanimously passed S.B. 267 last Friday, a five-year, one percent pay raise that isn’t sitting well with teachers and school service personnel, who were among the hundreds who rallied in the state’s North Central region and Eastern Panhandle over the weekend.

“Obviously, money is the issue, how to fund the teacher pay raise,” Beach said. “Quite honestly, that’s always the case. It always comes down to, ‘if not now, when?'”

With the bill now moving to the House of Delegates, Beach expressed confidence that a better pay raise and benefits package would be addressed. Governor Jim Justice echoed that sentiment during a press conference Monday morning. Again, the governor reiterated the need to remain fiscally prudent despite an improving budget outlook.

“You’ve got to be prudent in what you do,” Justice said. “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.”

Beach suggested a potential fix for PEIA, where rising premiums and deductibles have become the chief concern for many public workers, could come from an increased tax on the natural gas industry.

“We could throw money at it if we increase the gas severance tax just by one percent,” he said. “That’s $40 million. If we committed $40 million dollars every year, or committing one percent every year because that would grow as the production in natural gas grows, we wouldn’t have a healthcare problem for our public employees. We would never have a public employee’s health care problem.”

Beach said it’s evident, based on the number of demonstrations across the state, that public workers are agitated.

“I believe I’m on the right side of this issue,” he said. “I think these numbers that we’re seeing in our communities as far as standing on picket lines trying to get the information out there.”

Additional rallies in Harrison County and Preston County will be held this week. The Harrison County Education Association meets Monday evening. Public workers in Preston County are scheduled to rally in Kingwood on Friday.

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