CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Two days before a scheduled statewide walkout of teachers and service personnel, the Legislature has moved ahead with a pay raise bill providing for an average 2 percent raises next year and then 1 percent the following two years.
That came just a few hours after the Public Employees Insurance Agency finance board voted to freeze the structure currently in place for insurance plans.
The raise structure lops off a third year of a 1 percent raise for teachers that had been in a version of the bill earlier passed by the House. But it also doubles the first-year increase originally proposed by Governor Justice.
Service personnel and State Police — both with codified pay scales like teachers — would receive average 2 percent raises, followed by one more year of average 1 percent raises. Lawmakers have said other public employees will be dealt with in the regular budgeting process.
Republicans said the structure is the best that can be done right now. Democrats said it’s a step back.
Passes Senate, 27-6 with one absent pic.twitter.com/LffIm4ZCib
— Brad McElhinny (@BradMcElhinny) February 20, 2018
When Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, was asked by reporters whether the latest structure would stop the walkout her first reaction was a short laugh.
“No. These folks are frustrated,” she said. “This isn’t something that will actually pull us out of 48th in the country.”
The amended pay raise bill was moved out of the Senate’s Rules Committee after a delay of more than an hour. Senate Republicans earlier Tuesday afternoon had gathered in Gov. Jim Justice’s office.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, spoke to media after the Senate vote while clutching a blue stress ball.
The Senate, a couple of weeks ago, passed a bill with a raise structure with five straight years of 1 percent increases.
The House passed it back with the first year at 2 percent and then three more years of 1 percent.
Carmichael said the Senate majority became willing to accept the first year at 2 percent after considering what the coming year’s budget will allow.
But Carmichael said the Senate didn’t yet feel assured about the condition of the budget in future years, so that led to the decision to reduce the raise structure by one year.
Introducing the bill as it passed over from the Senate, House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles indicated his approval.
“I would join my Senate colleagues in asking our teachers to show up in their classrooms. It is a decent proposal that came back from the Senate,” Cowles said.
Republicans in the House said the amount doubles what the governor first proposed. They said the Legislature can come back in future years and increase the raises if West Virginia’s economic picture improves.
Cowles, R-Morgan, said referenced the 98-1 passage of a similar raise structure by delegates a week ago.
“98-1. Substantially the same. In fact, four out of the next five years it’s identical,” Cowles said.
“Do you believe teachers need a pay raise? Do you? Here it is. Right now.”
Democrats argued that the pay raise bill was a step back from what delegates had earlier passed. They said the action is likely to further inflame the situation.
“I don’t think this will change their minds. I think this may cause the strike to be longer,” said Delegate Mike Caputo, D-Marion.
“I think it’s going to get worse. I think it’s going to infuriate the people we’re doing our best for.”
As all of this was going on, Gov. Jim Justice put out a statement.
Justice said he has worked to shore up the state revenue picture and improve West Virginia’s education system. He also described taking steps to shore up the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
Now, if you choose you may throw rocks at the very man that has stood steadfast in your camp. I promise you nobody knows for sure that we are out of the woods,” Justice stated.
“I know our teachers are underpaid and underappreciated. But I also know that our teachers and families want us not to slip back and find our families again leaving our state seeking employment and opportunity.”