CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Delegates voted down two amendments that would have given teachers and service personnel a larger raise next year.
One, proposed by Delegates Pat McGeehan and Mike Folk, was defeated 50 votes to 50 votes. Their amendment would have provided for an average 3 percent raise next year, followed by 1 percent raises each of the two years after that.
Another amendment, offered by House Minority Leader Tim Miley, would have established a raise structure of 3 percent each of the next three years. That amendment was defeated 42-58.
That leaves the House voting for passage on Tuesday of a raise structure that came out of Finance Committee.
It provides for a 2 percent raise for teachers next year, followed by three more years of 1 percent raises.
Service Personnel and State Police would receive a 2 percent raise next year, followed by one more year of average 1 percent raises.
The raise structure still before the House is larger up front than what passed out of the Senate and what was proposed by Gov. Jim Justice.
Justice, speaking last week in a news conference, said he thinks a 1 percent raise the first year remains the cautious approach.
Delegates who spoke against increasing the raise beyond where it stands right now expressed caution about how much the state budget can take right now.
“This is not saying no. This is stepping up and saying ‘We’ve heard,'” said House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha.
“The proposal on the table is much greater than what the governor proposed and what the Senate proposed. It’s living within our means.”
Teachers union leaders said the votes on the amendments were not a step in the right direction.
A statewide vote on Sunday granted authorization for a work action, which could include a walkout.
“At this point it’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when,” said Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association.
Lee said teachers are mad about a variety of issues, not just pay.
“You really can’t appease people with a token raise any more. There’s too much anger out there.”
“The anger is four-pronged. It’s on PEIA. It’s on salary. It’s on the attacks like on seniority and now it’s on the attack on their rights, on their voice by the paycheck protection bill. Until we make movement on all four issues, they’re ready. They’re angry and they’re ready.”
Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said the raise being considered by lawmakers — in all of its recent forms — hasn’t been enough for teachers. She noted that each amount has been an average total of 5 percent over a period of years.
She spoke favorably of the amendment offered by Miley — which was similar to one proposed by Democrats in the Senate — to provide 3 percent raises each year for three years.
“The projections we’ve heard from the governor is that things are only going to get better. If we can do 3 percent this year, why wouldn’t we commit in future years when the outlook is supposedly good?” Campbell asked.
Campbell acknowledged that state leaders continue to discuss teachers’ issues.
“They are looking for solutions, but I think that the Legislature doesn’t understand how strong the frustration is out there and that they are willing to take action — and that they have to see some evidence.
“We just had two amendments on the House side, and although one was closer than the other they both failed.”
The House floor session went almost four hours today, with most of the time focused on the teacher pay raise issue.
Miley’s amendment was debated first, with the minority leader and other Democrats saying the state could find the money if it were a priority.
Miley suggested a variety of means to pay for greater teacher pay raises — including foregoing Governor Justice’s proposed funding increases to Tourism and Commerce, deferring the phase-out on property taxes on industrial manufacturers, generating revenue from sports betting or increasing the severance tax on natural gas.
“We can find creative ways to make sure we can pay for these raises,” said Miley, D-Harrison.
McGeehan suggested his amendment would provide a significant raise the first year but would still be careful with long-term finances.
“I think it’s very reasonable,” said McGeehan, R-Hancock.
He later added, “It’s the same amount of tax money in the aggregate as the bill itself.”
His amendment wound up gaining the support of his fellow members of the Liberty Caucus, some more Republicans and Democrats.
But others in the Republican majority again said the first-year cost is more than the state budget can manage right now.
“We want to do all we can within the budget that we have,” Nelson said. “Our budget is not in position to handle this at this time.”