CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Democrats reacted with skepticism to Republican Governor Jim Justice’s announcement that he intends to commit $100 million to stabilizing the state’s Public Employees Insurance Agency.
Delegate Mick Bates, D-Raleigh, who serves on the PEIA Task Force, told MetroNews affiliate WJLS he suspects Republican support for the proposal has less to do with resolving issues within PEIA, and more to do with election year politics.
“They’re looking probably looking at the same polling that I’m looking at, that shows the governor’s approval is low, and there’s likely to be a shift in balance of power, that there’s a number of people up there that are up for reelection that are pretty worried about what their prospects are,” said Bates, adding “(PEIA) actually has enough money in their system right not to change benefits, not to change premiums for this next 12 months. So, really, this sort of promise of additional money going to PEIA is…call it for what is.”
Bates also pointed to the fact that the governor’s pledge, by itself, is not a guarantee, insofar as the willingness of the legislature to follow through on the idea is concerned.
“This is not going to happen unless…you’ve got to run a bill, in the context of the state budget. So, this is an attempt to say just leave everything alone, everything’s going to be OK, and then we’ll deal this next year, ” he said.
Bates noted that the task force hasn’t convened since August 23rd, and that he and the other members of the panel were unaware of the governor’s intentions until they become known during his Tuesday news conference, in which he again brought up the possibility of privatizing PEIA, saying that while the agency may not doesn’t need the extra money right now, the additional funding would stabilize the future of the program.