10:00am: Talkline with Hoppy Kercheval

Justice says he is open to raises for state employees and teachers

Gov. Jim Justice cautiously endorsed a pay raise for state employees during a statewide radio interview today.

“We’ll absolutely look at it, and from my standpoint I’d be a proponent,” Justice said today. “I want to try to help anybody and everybody I possibly can.”

The governor added, “I would be a proponent, but it’s early on and we just have to look at numbers and go through all that.”

His comments could foreshadow debate over the state’s financial direction. State employees, including teachers, may see budget surpluses and focus on the couple of years that have passed since across-the-board raises were announced. Fiscal conservatives may see surpluses and focus on tax breaks.

Justice described willingness to consider pay raises for public employees while also discussing financial caution.

Justice’s comments on MetroNews’ “Talkline” were in the context of a positive monthly revenue report from the state. West Virginia reported being $88 million above estimate for the month.

That was one of a series of positive revenue reports, resulting in West Virginia being $269.4 million ahead of estimates almost halfway through the fiscal year.

The fiscal performance has fueled by an influx of federal funding to the state, businesses and individuals — as well as by upswings in energy markets.

Addressing the possibility of pay increases, Justice expressed caution that state officials will need to examine the longer-term financial outlook.

“I’d surely be in favor and I would be a proponent. Yes, I would,” he said. “We want to be careful and be wise in all this. We’ve kept a solid budget, for all practical purposes, flat. We’ve not wasted money. We’ve got West Virginia on a pathway that is really rock solid.

“With all that being said, you don’t want to just grow government because you’ve got money. You want to be prudent with what you do.”

This past legislative session, the Justice administration proposed a $4.569 budget that officials described as flat.

What the Legislature wound up passing was millions of dollars less than that, appropriating $4.495 billion to the general fund.

That budget did not include additional pay raises for state employees, nor did one passed in 2020.

During this past year’s State of the State address, the governor proposed a series of flat budgets for coming years to cushion a phase-out of the state income tax. Lawmakers couldn’t agree on what shape that tax cut would take, and it collapsed.

State employees and school teachers did receive pay raises in 2018 and 2019. 

Fred Albert

“Yes, it has been two years since the last pay raise for teachers, service personnel, and public employees,” said Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia.

“In order to stay competitive and to attract and retain quality teachers, service personnel, and public employees it is good to hear that Governor Justice is a proponent of looking for a way to offer competitive salaries for the all of these essential workers.”

The governor has been praising West Virginia’s tax collections as a sign of a solid economy. Justice’s administration put out a statement this week citing those figures with the headline, “Gov. Justice’s rocketship ride is — REAL.”

“It’s hard not to be braggadocious. And that’s not my nature,” Justice said today on “Talkline. “In all honesty, when I walked in the door I told you I was going to take you on a rocketship ride. And absolutely we’re riding the rocket and we’ve got more and more and more good to come.”

Justice also commented on the administration’s ongoing efforts to slow the spread of covid-19 in West Virginia.

Active cases were at 7,673 today, according to state figures. That’s the highest number since October.

The state listed 583 covid-19 patients in hospitals, another rising figure. There were 192 in the intensive care unit and 97 who need ventilators to breathe.

“We’ve always got to be concerned, do we not?” Justice said. “For someone to not be concerned is being frivolous. Without question, we need to continue to watch.”

 





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