CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As crowds of chanting educators gathered at the state Capitol to see if the Senate will take action on a pay raise bill, Senate President Mitch Carmichael said that additional money will be directed toward shoring up public employee health insurance instead.

“Our intention is to substantiate these numbers and then those numbers will be dedicated to PEIA,” Carmichael said today on MetroNews’ “Talkline.”

“We believe that’s what the teachers want us to do. We hear they want PEIA. We’ve heard it and heard it and heard it.”

Carmichael repeated want he said on “Talkline” during a speech during the Senate floor session.

As teachers and school service personnel have walked off the job for a week, their focus has been on better pay and stable health care costs.

Mitch Carmichael

Carmichael noted that the governor has already signed a bill providing an average 2 percent pay raise next year to teachers and service personnel.

Gov. Jim Justice earlier this week raised state revenue estimates by $58 million and announced that he now supports a pay raise averaging 5 percent. The House suspended rules and passed a bill reflecting that on Wednesday evening.

Carmichael said the focus should be on PEIA.

“This additional money the governor has found would be built into PEIA within the budget,” said Carmichael, R-Jackson. “We absolutely must protect the PEIA insurance programs first and foremost.”

Roman Prezioso

Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso tried to force a vote on the pay raise measure during the floor session but his attempt failed.

“I think we’ve taken our eye off the ball. If we don’t raise these salaries we are going to continue to lose teachers across the state,” Prezioso, D-Marion, said before the vote.

The bill was sent to the Finance Committee but the committee would not be meeting Thursday, Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said.

Blair said it will take a couple of days to analyze how the pay raise bill fits into the budget anyway.

“All possibilities are on the table,” Blair said.

Counties called off again all over the state on Thursday, with teachers saying they will not be content until the pay raise bill is passed and signed.

Justice administration Chief of Staff Mike Hall said Carmichael had invited Governor Justice to speak during the Republican caucus Thursday afternoon.

The criticism of Carmichael’s plan was quick from both teacher groups and some members of the House of Delegates.

On Wednesday, Justice also signed an executive order establishing and defining a task force to look into stabilizing the finances of the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Tiffany Johnson, a teachers aide in Jackson County, was among those who returned to the Capitol on Thursday. She carried a sign thanking the House of Delegates for its action.

But she said the deal is not complete until the pay raise bill is passed and the governor signs it.

“First of all, we haven’t seen anything in writing, and we’re still being told that the Legislature may not pass this. They may not even bring it up today. So our whole mission was to see changes to PEIA and to start seeing pay raises to all state employees.

“Without that put in writing, it’s just another broken promise. So we came out today to be united and strong and show them that we’re here to see this through.”

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