Governor Jim Justice, flanked by Senate President Craig Blair (R-Berkeley) and House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay), have thrown their support behind an average five-percent pay raise for public school teachers, service workers and state employees.
If approved by the Legislature when it goes into regular session next month, the raises would go into effect July 1st. But Justice also wants the state to provide more immediate help. He is proposing a one-time two-and-a-half percent bonus that he hopes the Legislature would quickly approve so the extra money can be distributed in January.
“Basically, it’s an inflation vaccine,” Justice said. “We’re going to do a one-time supplement to help them get through the situations they’re in today.”
The Governor, who often has his own unique marketing ideas, has even given the bonus a name: Inflatocine.” No, it does not exactly roll off the tongue, but the check will cash just the same.
The support of Blair and Hanshaw is critical. They are the leaders of the Republican supermajorities in their chambers. They cannot dictate how votes will go, but leadership backing is integral to the success of most legislation.
Blair told me earlier in the week that he has been planning for months to push a pay raise, and in a statement directed at state workers, he suggested the raise is not a one off. “Help us do a better job for the state of West Virginia, and there will be more of this in the future.”
Hanshaw pledged the backing of his chamber. “We’re happy to be able to indicate the House’s support for the five percent pay raises for public employees and our schoolteachers.”
Meanwhile, teachers and state workers received more good news Thursday. The Public Employee Insurance Agency Finance Board approved the health insurance plan for state workers for next year with no premium increase. And Justice has promised to keep rates steady for the following fiscal year as well.
That means state workers will see no premium increases for at least five years! That is unheard of these days, and it makes the already generous health benefit even more attractive.
Teachers, school service workers and state employees have not had a raise in two years, so these increases are desperately needed. The freeze on insurance premiums certainly helps and the proposed post-Christmas bonuses will come in handy.
Every lawmaker, regardless of their political party, should join Justice, Blair and Hanshaw in passing the pay raises and the bonuses. The state has the money—an estimated $160-$170 million—and our teachers and state workers need to know their elected representatives appreciate their work.
That was not the case in 2018 when angry teachers and service workers went on strike and flooded the State Capitol. It was a low point for the relationship between state government and educators.
Now comes the opportunity to complete the job of mending those fences and improve the pay of these West Virginians.