CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House Finance Committee voted to bump up the first year of proposed pay increases for teachers, service personnel and uniformed and administrative State Police.
All three of those categories of state employees, whose pay scales are set in state code, would receive average 2 percent pay raises next year under the change.
Teachers would then receive three more years of 1 percent raises. Service Personnel and State Police would receive one more year of average 1 percent raises.
That’s not as much as Democrats on the committee wanted. They proposed amendments offering average 3 percent raises over three years for those groups of state employees.
“I can’t think of anything that’s more fundamental to building up our economy than to have an educated workforce,” said Brent Boggs, D-Braxton.
Republicans suggested the 3 percent raises would be a financial gamble as the state climbs out of its budget hole.
Still, the raises that passed out of the committee were larger than those originally proposed by Gov. Jim Justice and then passed out of the state Senate last week.
The House of Delegates put out a release after the meeting, highlighting the committee’s decision.
“We’re beginning to turn the corner with our state budget picture, but we’re by no means out of the woods yet,” House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson stated in the release.
Referring to the structure of the teachers’ raises, Nelson continued, “We believe the 2-1-1-1 plan is a responsible path forward. Should our budget picture continue to improve, we’ll be in a better position to consider future increases. But for right now we think this is a sensible approach to boosting employees’ pay.”
After the meeting, teachers union leaders said decisions about pay increases and healthcare benefits have looked up following a rally of hundreds of teachers last Friday.
But the teachers union leaders also said they’re reserving judgment.
“Everything this week has been a step in the right direction,” said Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia. “So we’ll see where we end up.”
Campbell said teachers had been in favor of the amendment that would have offered teachers a 3 percent average raise for three years straight.
She also expressed support for a reversal on changes to the Public Employees Insurance Agency plans. Gov. Jim Justice has advocated for that switch, and the House of Delegates today approved a resolution supporting it.
“There are things happening, and I think the members are being heard and things are being addressed,” she said.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, said the true test is whether teachers in communities around West Virginia feel they are receiving just compensation for their work.
“It doesn’t matter how I feel,” Lee said. “It matters how the people that are teaching in front of our kids every day — how they feel. There’s a lot of anger out there. They have seen promise after promise. They have seen bill after bill that disrespects them and attacks things like their seniority.
“There is movement being made, and I give credit for that movement. But it’s still up to our people. They’re the ones who are angry enough to make an action like they did on Friday. They’re the ones who have to decide what is enough.”
Gov. Jim Justice, speaking on Tuesday at two town hall meetings with teachers and today on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” said the 1-percent proposal that passed out of the Senate represents a cautious approach while the state economy remains fragile.
“I am rock solid with the Senate plan,” Justice said today.
Also speaking on “Talkline,” Senate President Mitch Carmichael suggested the 1 percent raises may be all the state can afford right now.
“We will responsibly manage this budget. There will always be people who come in this Capitol and say ‘We want more.’ Politicians often react to that,” Carmichael said. “We will not relent on managing this budget properly.”
Carmichael said the 1 percent may be what the state can afford now. He said that if there is greater economic growth then more extensive raises could be considered in coming years.
“Our belief was the 1 percent was a starting point,” he said.