House of Delegates passes pay raise

Measure doubles original amount

CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates approved an increased multi-year pay raise plan for teachers, service personnel and State Police on Tuesday.

The House’s amended version of Senate Bill 267, which passed on a 98-1 vote, doubles the pay raise originally proposed for teachers, school service personnel and State Police.

“The members of the House recognize the continuing need to improve the pay of our teachers and public employees,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha. “This plan represents a responsible path forward to provide our teachers and state employees an ongoing pay raise without promising more than our state budget can afford.”

Officials said this plan balances the need to increase employees’ salaries with the state’s continued financial constraints.

“Combined with additional funding for PEIA, the House of Delegates has committed to providing more than $70 million in additional funding this year to benefit our teachers and public employees,” Armstead said. “This is a substantial amount of new money to direct to our employees without asking our citizens for tax increases.”

As passed by the Senate, the bill would have given a 1-percent pay increase to teachers each year for the next five years. Service personnel and State Police would have received 1-percent increases this year and the next.

The House modified this plan to give all employees covered by the bill a 2-percent pay raise this year. Service personnel and State Police would get an additional 1-percent raise next year, while teachers would get additional 1-percent raises for each of the next three years.

The amended version of Senate Bill 267 will now go back to the Senate to approve or reject the House’s changes to the bill.

Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said the cost is $24 million for one year and $65 million over four years.

Senate Bill 267 affects those public employees whose salaries are set in state code. Funding for pay raises for other state employees whose salaries are not defined by code will be addressed in the Fiscal Year 2019 budget bill, officials said.

House Majority Leader Daryl Cowles, R-Morgan, said the 2-percent raise in the first year strikes a balance between the need to give employees a raise while also making sure they can be supported by future budgets.

“It would be irresponsible to promise our teachers and public employees more than we can deliver,” he said. “We believe that, in combination with the PEIA changes we have already secured, this amended pay raise plan will provide the best benefit possible to our public employees, while also ensuring stability in our future budgets.”

House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said that while the state’s budget picture has improved over the past year, revenue projections remain tight.

“We have faced tremendous financial challenges over the past four years,” Nelson said. “Now that we’ve turned a corner, we are demonstrating our priorities by thinking of our public employees first. While we would like to do more, we must be sensible and prudent. Should our budget picture continue to improve, we can look at further raises in future years. However, for right now, this is the most responsible path forward.”

Delegate Vernon Criss, R-Wood, said the changes to the bill still have to be accepted by the Senate and the governor.

”There is a danger it will not pass through,” he said.

However, with the work Armstead is doing on behalf of the passed version, many hope it will pass, Criss said.

Criss said this bill is a beginning to addresss the pay issues for teachers and other public employees.

There is hope with the state’s economy improving that the Legislature will be able to revisit this matter in 2019 and add to the raises called for, Criss said.

This bill is the best legislators can do with the current revenue projections from the governor’s office, he said.

Several minority Democrats say it’s too little and shows the majority Republicans’ wrong priorities.

Minority Leader Tim Miley, D-Harrison, said Democrats won’t support Republican efforts to cut industry inventory taxes.

Republican legislators say they’re constrained by available funds this year and need to take steps to keep West Virginia’s economy improving.