CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice is making two major financial commitments with state finances following another month of revenue collections significantly exceeding estimates. Democrats are calling the commitments “political stunts.”
During a Tuesday morning announcement at the state capitol, Justice pledged state money toward a permanent fix to the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
“We are announcing that we’re going to dedicate $100 million today, $100 million toward a long-term solution of fixing PEIA and stabilizing it in the future,” Justice said.
Justice didn’t stop there. Surrounded by a group of Republican state lawmakers, he also pledged another pay raise for teachers.
“That we’re going, in the next session, these people are committing, I am committing, all of us are committing, to an additional five percent pay raise for the teachers and all state employees,” Justice said.
The additional increase would mean a 10 percent hike in pay for teachers over two years. They received a five percent raise in the current state budget following the education workers strike that took place earlier this year.
Justice praised Republicans and criticized Democrats several times during his announcement.
“The bottom line is–who’s delivering? Who’s delivering? We absolutely all believe in education. We think we should invest in education. We think as we do that and we’re doing that right now. We’re putting our money we’re our mouth is. Period. Period,” Justice said.
Justice said the financial commitments come without raising any taxes.
Justice gave the credit of the five percent raise that followed the strike to Republicans and himself.
“That all happened not because of the people who were rah-rahing and everything upstairs. It happened because of the good work of the Republicans. The Republicans are the ones who passed it. Your Republican governor is the one who came up with the idea of five percent,” Justice said.
West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword predicted state residents wouldn’t fall for Justice’s “blatant diversion attempt to take attention away from all the chaos going on at the State Capitol.”
“Governor Justice must think West Virginians are stupid. While dismissing as “rah-rah” a historic strike here that led to educators across the country standing up for fair wages and benefits, the governor held a press conference one month before the election making promises about things he says he’ll do months from now. Give us a break – everyone knows Mitch Carmichael and Bray Cary can’t be trusted,” Sword said.
Sword also said Justice must not understand the “scope and scale” of PEIA if he thinks a one time allocation of $100 million is going to fix the fund.
Justice said the $100 million commitment doesn’t end the work of the PEIA Task Force. He said that work would continue. Justice once again brought up the possibility of privatizing PEIA. Justice said PEIA “doesn’t need” the extra money right now but that it would stabilize the future of the health insurance program.
Justice also took time Tuesday to criticize state Senator and Third Congressional District candidate Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, for his actions during the 10-day education workers strike.
“Ojeda running through the halls yelling, ‘rah-rah-rah-rah-rah’ what has he done? We can measure what these people have done. Rah-rahing is absolutely nothing more than what Lou Holtz has said is piling on. Someone else makes the tackle and you pile on,” Justice said.
West Virginia Education Association Executive Director David Haney released a statement saying the union was pleased attention was being paid to the issues of teacher pay and PEIA but questioned the timing of the announcement.
“And I am sure it is just a coincidence that the timing of the announcement occurs right before early voting begins
and while absentee ballots are out,” Haney said calling most of what Justice said “political year rhetoric.”
Haney took aim at Republican state senators.
“Simply standing behind the governor today does not mean the senators are friends of education,” he said.
Justice said the revenue numbers are proof the Republican majorities in the House and Senate and his office have created the “perfect storm.”
“There’s a Republican wave here and it’s a heck of a ride, a heck of a ride and we should be very proud,” Justice said.