House Ed Committee botches teacher pay bill

Governor Tomblin, teacher unions and key lawmakers have spent the last two months trying to shepherd a pay raise for teachers and service workers through the Legislature.  It’s been a challenge, for a variety of reasons.

The state’s budget for next year is extremely tight.  Lawmakers and the Tomblin administration are scrambling to try to fill a $140 million hole in next year’s spending plan by dipping into the Rainy Day emergency fund and making modest cuts in state spending and lottery disbursements.

Also, just getting a bill through four committees and two chambers is a challenge.  The pay raise plan has already changed a couple of times, from a two percent raise to a $1,000 increase back to a two percent increase and then an $837 raise.

Then the bill hit the House Education Committee where, of all places, sanity should prevail, but it didn’t.

First, the Democratic leaders switched the pay raise back to $1,000.  That’s reasonable because it gives a greater boost to entry level teachers who start out at lower salaries than any of our surrounding states.

But then things started to spiral out of control.

The committee’s minority chair, Amanda Pasdon (R-Monongalia), amended the bill to change the raise to $1,500.  That passed 16-6, with some Democrats joining in support of the Republican’s amendment.

That was followed by Delegate David Walker’s (D-Clay) move to amend the bill to a $1,000 raise next year, a $2,000 raise the following year and a $3,000 raise the third year, plus $100 a month supplemental pay for service workers.

That passed on a close voice vote.

That raise would cost the state’s taxpayers well over $225 million dollars.   West Virginia doesn’t have that kind of money right now, not even close.  Lawmakers are well aware of that because they’ve been hearing the administration and finance committee chairs talk all session about the tight budget.

Now it’s up to the House Finance Committee to fix the bill, but it puts those lawmakers in the awkward position of appearing to be anti-teacher, when what they actually will be doing is acting like responsible adults by returning the pay increase to a more affordable level.

Worse yet, the curve ball bill could send the pay raise into a legislative netherworld and teachers could end up with no increase at all.

The final week of the regular session of the Legislature is a time for serious business, not one-upmanship or folly.



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