CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As state workers push for long-term stability for the Public Employees Insurance Agency, the House Finance Committee unveiled and quickly approved a bill meant to help.
The bill, which originated today in the committee, won support from both Republicans and Democrats. When Finance Chairman Eric Nelson asked who would like to sponsor it, almost all hands shot up.
“I want to commend you and counsel for originating this bill,” Delegate Brent Boggs, the ranking Democrat on the committee, told Nelson.
“I think it will certainly to hand-in-hand with some other measures we’ve taken and possibly some other measures we can take as we move forward. This is only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s a big piece.”
The bill would allocate 20 percent of any surpluses at the end of the fiscal year to the Public Employees Financial Stability Fund.
That would start with the coming fiscal year and go until 2027. Then the Legislature would have to decide if it wants the setup to continue.
If the balance of the financial stability fund reaches $75 million, the allocation would be suspended until the balance drops below that mark. It would then resume until the $75 million balance is again achieved.
Right now, 50 percent of any surplus at the end of the fiscal year goes to the Rainy Day Fund while the other half goes to General Revenue. During the 10-year period this bill could be in effect, the allocation to Rainy Day would be reduced to 40 percent.
“I think what we’ve heard over the last week and a half are the uncertainties as to where the future of PEIA is going and certainties with funding sources,” Nelson, R-Kanawha, said after today’s House Finance meeting.
“There’s been attempts to amend bills and have excess dollars go into PEIA without any true certainty. I think this just shows the certainty that 20 percent of any surplus will go into the PEIA fund that then could be used by the board to supplement, complement, whatever they need to do.”
Several legislative moves have been made recently to try to shore up PEIA.
The House on Friday suspended rules and passed during one floor session a bill that would use $29 million from the Rainy Day Fund to freeze PEIA benefits for the next 17 months. Senate leaders have said that’s not an appropriate use of the revenue shortfall reserve fund, though.
But there have been other measures aimed at longer-term fixes for PEIA.
Last week, delegates amended a PEIA funding mechanism into a bill meant to deal with the royalties from natural gas drilling.
Earlier today, the state Senate amended yet another PEIA funding mechanism into a bill focused on the possibility of legalizing sports betting in West Virginia.
Ensuring stability for PEIA is one of several reasons teachers and public service personnel have stated for a statewide work stoppage that’s to start Thursday.
Nelson didn’t want to predict if the House will act with as much speed on the longer-term PEIA stabilization bill as it did on the one transferring $29 million from the Rainy Day Fund.
But he said the House is motivated.
“That $29 million, that was true certainty for the next year. What this did is certainty at least for 10 years or up to a cap amount of $75 million,” Nelson said.
The PEIA Stability Fund was established in 2016 to replenish PEIA reserves that had been spent down by the PEIA Finance Board during the early part of the decade.
House leaders believe the $75 million would be enough to absorb annual estimated increases in medical inflation.
“This will help give us a dedicated, long-term funding source for PEIA, and is one more piece of the puzzle to provide our teachers and state employees the best pay and benefits package possible,” stated House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.