CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Maneuvering over a pay raise for teachers and school staff continued in the state Senate.
The Senate voted 18-14, with two absences, to amend its version of the state budget into the House of Delegates’ version on Tuesday evening. The House version includes a teacher pay raise. The Senate version does not.
That prompted a back-and-forth between Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair and Minority Leader Roman Prezioso.
It began when Prezioso, D-Marion, directed Blair’s attention to part of a slide presentation about how the budget would affect the Department of Education.
“Under the Department of Education, that’s been zeroed out and you mentioned that’s a teacher pay raise. Do we intend to give the teachers a pay raise?” Prezioso asked.
Each house’s budget reflects the bills that it has passed. Blair’s response made reference to that.
“The Senate is not in possession of a pay raise that has been completed to incorporate into this,” said Blair, R-Berkeley. “Right now, the pay raise, that is accurate, that is zero.”
That prompted Prezioso to conclude, “So there is entirely no hope for any pay raise of any percent in this budget.”
Blair then made reference to the likelihood of a conference committee to work out differences between the House budget bill and the Senate’s.
“In the House budget, it is calculated into it,” Blair said. “Anything is possible all the way to midnight Saturday night.”
That exchange on the Senate floor Tuesday evening was just one of several over the course of the day.
The pay raise for teachers and school service personnel is estimated to cost about $67 million. The bill also includes a $2 million pay raise for State Police. All those state employees have pay scales set in state code.
Gov. Jim Justice promised the pay raise for teachers and other state employees last Oct. 2 while surrounded by other Republican lawmakers. He repeated the vow during his State of the State address.
The House of Delegates passed the pay raise bill on Feb. 22.
The Senate assigned the bill to the Education Committee and the Finance Committee, but it has not hit an agenda.
On Monday, the official Twitter account for West Virginia Senate Republicans sent out a message on the topic: “Senate Republicans have voted twice this year for a 5% pay raise for educators.”
That’s a reference to when the pay raise was part of an omnibus education bill that also included charter schools, education savings accounts, changes to local control of property taxes that fund school systems, more flexibility to pay higher salaries for in-demand educators and changes to the role seniority plays when layoffs have to occur.
The omnibus education bill was opposed by teachers unions, which went on strike, and the House of Delegates voted it down.
Senate Republicans have voted twice this year for a 5% pay raise for educators. Senate Republicans are committed to comprehensive education reform that prioritizes teachers, parents, & students. WV families deserve education reform now!
— WVGOP Senators (@WVGOPSenators) March 4, 2019
Prezioso made a motion during Tuesday’s midday floor session to discharge the pay raise bill from the Education Committee.
Addressing Senate President Mitch Carmichael, Prezioso said, “There have been a series of events with you present, the governor and the speaker of the House, before the election, promising the teachers a 5 percent pay raise. Let’s give the teachers the raise they deserve.”
Delegate Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, also stood and asked for the bill to come to the floor.
On promises by Governor Justice, Facemire said: “He didn’t promise it with any strings attached or anything like that. We have a responsibility to our citizens that when we tell them something that we do it.”
The motion was defeated, 16-18. All 14 Democrats plus Republicans Bill Hamilton and Dave Sypolt voted in favor of the motion.
A separate letter from Unger to Governor Justice urged action on the pay raise bill as well as on shoring up the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
“The group of Republican legislators described above actively expressed your approval of your announced pay increases,” Unger wrote. “Notably absent in that announcement was a requirement for the passage of any other proposed legislation before the pay raises could be implemented.
“A significant theme of the press conference seemed to be that you and the Republicans in the Legislature had followed through and kept the promises made to the people of the state. With the 2019 session set to close March 9, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that a similar declaration will be possible this year.”
Speaking at another press conference this Monday, Justice said he would be meeting with Republican and Democratic caucuses in the House and Senate to speak in favor of the pay raise.
He completed that mission Tuesday afternoon, meeting with House Republicans and Democrats. He also met with Senate Democrats. He met with Senate Republicans the prior day.
There were strong hints the topic wasn’t confined to just the raise — and the timetable might not be confined to just the regular session.
“What I want to do is to try to bring everybody together, if it be a special session or whatever it be and try to make some real progress,” Justice said.
Justice also suggested he would be open to other changes to West Virginia’s education system, although he did not specify.
“I want to really bring everyone to the table,” Justice said. “There’s certain things there’s no question the Senate Republicans would like to have. They call it reform. I’d like to call it the betterment of our education system, and our schools for our kids and our teachers and everybody.”