Pay Raise Chatter at the State Capitol

There is some pre-session chatter among legislative leaders about a pay raise for teachers, service workers and state employees next year.

State workers and teachers received pay raises averaging five percent in 2018 and 2019, while school service workers got a $1,100 raise in each of those two years. However, there were no raises in 2020 or 2021.

Senate President Craig Blair (R, Berkeley) said salary increases are “a top level consideration” for him.  “I’ve been thinking about it for the last three months.”

Senate President Craig Blair

Blair is not ready to commit on an amount, but he added that “when we have surpluses like we do, we want to take care of our state employees.”

West Virginia’s tax collections are running $269 million ahead of estimates for the first five months of the fiscal year, and Governor Jim Justice believes the surpluses will continue to grow.

“In all honesty, when I walked in the door I told you I was going to take you on a rocket ship ride, and absolutely we’re riding the rocket and we’ve got more and more and more good to come,” Justice said on a recent Talkline.

Justice then issued an endorsement of a pay raise. “We’ll absolutely look at it, and from my standpoint I’d be a proponent,” Justice said.  Like Blair, Justice did not cite a specific amount.

Fred Albert, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, welcomed the news. “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 all these essential workers.”

A report by the National Education Association issued last April pegged the starting salary for West Virginia teachers at $39,978. That ranked 36th in the nation.  However, the average teacher salary is just over $50,000, which is 48th.

The increased cost of living is another driver in support of a pay raise.  The inflation rate rose to 6.8 percent in November, the highest since June 1982. Lower to moderate income earners are hit harder by inflation because they spend a larger percentage of their earnings on life’s necessities.

However, any pay raise proposal may run into competing interests.  Governor Justice and Republican lawmakers do not want to grow state spending and pay raises add to the base.  Additionally, Justice and Republicans may try again to phase out the state income tax, which generates 45 percent of the state’s General Revenue budget.

Still, the lack of a raise for two years, the challenges of unfilled positions in schools and the impact of inflation, all combined with election year politics, may all add up to higher salaries for teachers, service workers and state employees in 2022.

 





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