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W.Va. Legislature approves multi-year pay raise bill after teachers threaten to walk out

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WCHS/WVAH) — The West Virginia House passed a Senate bill Tuesday that would provide multi-year pay raises for teachers, State Police and school service personnel.

Under the bill, teachers would get a 2 percent raise for the first year, then a 1 percent raise for the next two years. State Police and school service personnel would get a 2 percent raise the first year and a 1 percent raise the second year.

The bill, Senate Bill 267, will provide more than $119 million in pay increases to teachers, service personnel and State Police over the next three years.

Raises for additional state employees whose salaries are not set in code will be addressed in the fiscal year 2019 budget bill, according to a news release from House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.

“This represents a substantial commitment to our teachers and public employees for the coming year,” Armstead said in the release. “This is the largest pay raise package our teachers and public employees have seen in decades, and is being done at a time when our budget picture still remains relatively tight.”

The bill has already passed the Senate so it is now on its way to the governor's desk.

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice had proposed 1 percent pay raises over five years for teachers.

“I feel that many Democrats that could have helped you dove in the ditch last year and are now grandstanding because of the election year,” Justice said in a statement Tuesday. “I feel the Republicans are trying to be cautious and prudent to assure our state won’t fall back and be doomed to be 50th forever.”

American Federation of Teachers of West Virginia President Christine Campbell issued a statement Tuesday regarding Justice's response.

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“Last year, we did indeed feel a proposed 2 percent pay increase was refreshing, in light of the state’s $580 million budget deficit," Campbell said in the statement. "However, now it’s hard to find 2 percent as refreshing in a year when 'we’ve turned the corner'” into 'happy days' and the governor is proposing $140 million tax breaks for out-of-state corporations. These numbers and the logic behind them just don’t add up. Bringing up comments from a previous budget year and a previous legislative cycle is a distraction from what’s going on now. It remains to be seen what this Legislature will ultimately pass; however, it won’t change the anger for our school employees who are standing up for public education and the children we serve.”

The House Finance Committee advanced legislation that would dedicate 20 percent of the state's budget surplus to help fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Surplus is not a guarantee. When the state has had surplus recently, it has ranged anywhere from about $12 million to $340 million, and half of that money goes to the Rainy Day Fund.

Twenty-nine million dollars has already been transferred from the Rainy Day Fund so that PEIA won't have to raise deductibles or out-of-pocket expenses for one year.

“When you combine the 2 percent pay raise for teachers and state employees with the new money being diverted to PEIA, it represents more than $70 million in new spending on our public employees in the coming budget year – all without asking our citizens for new taxes,” Armstead said in the release. “This is a strong package that represents our commitment to making our teachers and public employees our top priority.”

Meanwhile, things are heating up for the planned walkout. The West Virginia Board of Education held an emergency meeting Wednesday to address the work stoppage. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey sent out a news release saying the work stoppage is unlawful and could be halted with an injunction.

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