CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The House of Delegates overwhelming passed an amended version of Gov. Jim Justice’s pay raise proposal Wednesday, which would provide education staff with a 5 percent pay raise next year.
The House Finance Committee amended the measure in the afternoon to include a 5 percent raise for members of the West Virginia State Police. Raises for all other state employees will be considered as part of the state budget.
The measure will cost around $67.4 million if it becomes law.
“Within just a few short hours of receiving this revised revenue estimate, we held a committee meeting, passed an amended bill, got it to the floor and approved overwhelmingly by this house,” House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said. “We hope this sends a message to our public employees about how seriously we’ve taken their call to action.”
Lawmakers passed the measure 98-1 on the “cooling-off” day of the statewide education walkout, with the intention of schools statewide being open Thursday. Some school districts announced students will not attend class until Friday following protests at the state Capitol.
The work stoppage began a week from Thursday, following Justice signing a measure for a 4 percent raise over three years.
Delegate Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, thanked teachers sitting in the gallery for their activism in pushing for higher pay.
“We’re going to hope to do more down here because if the priorities had been the public employees in the state of West Virginia to begin with, we would have had this strike,” he said on the chamber floor. “This would have been taken care of a month ago.”
State union leaders said the task force responsible for addressing increasing insurance rates will meet by March 15. Justice signed an executive order Wednesday to create the body.
Delegate Rick Moye, D-Raleigh, said the task force needs to best use its time.
“Let’s be earnest, let’s be serious, let’s work across the aisle,” he said. “Let’s take care of the insurance for our teachers, service personnel and public employees.”
House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said it does not matter who is to blame for the strike because pay and insurance problems existed before this year’s legislative session, adding students have had to pay for the days out of the classroom.
“What motivates me, friends, is that I hope it gets our students back in the classroom,” he said. “Whatever that means, however that needs to happen, I would like to get the students back into the classroom. They’re entitled to it.”
Leaders in the state Senate, including President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, have voiced skepticism about the pay increase bill. Carmichael said the issue needs to be analyzed rather than addressed with reactionary legislation.