Roman Prezioso

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Senate Minority Leader Roman Prezioso (D – Marion, 13) said Democrats will support a raise for teachers, but has questions over the timing of Gov. Jim Justice’s announcement.

“I don’t think I have a hard job rallying my caucus,” he said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline” with Hoppy Kercheval. “They definitely support any five percent pay raise for teachers.”

Last week, Justice — surrounded by a group of Republican state lawmakers — pledged $100 million towards the stabilization of the Public Employee’s Insurance Agency (PEIA) and a second round of five percent pay raises for all state workers in West Virginia.

That move was widely criticized by Democrats and left-leaning labor groups as a “politically calculated” move and even so far as to be described by one local Monongalia County leader as an “insult” to the teachers who took to picket lines earlier this year.

Prezioso, though, isn’t just questioning the timing as it relates to election season, but as it relates to actually building a budget next January when the Legislature returns to Charleston.

“I think both are commendable, but the devil is in the detail,” he said. “Obviously it’s a little early to come out and propose those things when you haven’t seen the entire budget.”

That proposal comes about three months ahead of a new Legislature being seated for the 2019 Regular Session, which Prezioso said wasn’t responsible. He’s particularly critical because he doesn’t believe West Virginia’s current post-recession growth — already termed by economic experts in the sate as ‘unbalanced’ — is sustainable at this pace.

Governor Jim Justice/Flickr

Gov. Jim Justice

“The numbers as I see them — and I looked over the numbers — don’t add up,” Prezioso said.

He added: “We’ll have to see when we get back there in January just where we do stand.”

That said, Prezioso is optimistic that the state’s economic future is brighter than it was one year prior.

“We are coming out of this recession,” Prezioso said. “We think that things are moving in the right direction — not because of one political party or another. There hasn’t been any time in our country’s history where we sustained more than a ten year period of a recession. So the odds of us coming out of this recession are good, and we’re in a good position to do that.”

Prezioso said the pay raise seemed far more realistic than the PEIA pledge, suggesting that Justice shouldn’t put all his chips on continued economic growth.

“By coming out and saying, we’re going to do this — yeah of course everyone is going to support that pay raise for teachers,” he said. “But you’re going to put that $100 million for PEIA? They’ve already got a surplus, and then (Justice) is saying it’s going to be sustained over two years.”

“Well, that’s subject to change,” Prezioso finished.

The Senate Minority Leader did not doubt Justice’s commitment to education.

“He probably is sincere about education,” Prezioso said. “I mean, you’ve got to sustain a good educational system, you got to have a good work force to move forward. And he’s probably spot on on that, but the timing was suspect. There wasn’t any question about it.”

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