CHARLESTON — The House of Delegates has refused to concur with a Senate Bill Amendment passed Saturday night which approved a 4 percent pay raise for teachers and some other public employees, 1 percentage point less than what the governor negotiated with educators and what the House agreed to give them.
According to multiple sources at the Capitol, preceding the House’s vote was confusion caused by the Senate reportedly sending the wrong bill (with the 5 percent raise) back to the House. Once the House received the correct bill (with the 4 percent raise), it did not agree with the Senate Amendment and sent it back to the Senate chamber where it refused to recede. This means the issue now goes to conference committee which will consist of three members from the Senate and three members of the House to see if common ground can be found.
The three delegates representing constituents in Mason County, all upheld their original votes to approve the 5 percent raises by refusing to concur with the Senate Bill Amendment.
“Tonight, after an embarrassing failure to pass and send the correct bill to the House, the Senate was forced to call itself back into order to take up the correct bill to reduce the public employee pay raise for teachers, service personnel and state troopers by one percent, and eliminate the increase for all other public employees,” Delegate Scott Brewer (D-13th) said. “This is all happening after the governor and 98 of 99 house members voted to approve it. The House of Delegates then immediately voted unanimously not to concur with the action of the Senate. Classes are now in jeopardy because 20 members of the Senate want to save 0.003 of the budget after the governor, House of Delegates, and all county superintendents attending recommended the raise.”
“The House promised a 5 percent raise and we intend to uphold that,” Delegate Joshua Higginbotham (R-13th) said. “They will send it to conference committee where anything can happen. I wanted the Senate to go along with what the House and the governor agreed to, but they did not think it was affordable.”
Delegate Jim Butler (R-14th) said: “All along I have been working within the constraints of the budget to provide for pay raises for public employees, including state police, teachers, service personnel, and all others, who certainly deserve it. As I explained earlier, those of us in the House decided to use funds made available as a result of the new revenue estimates to provide for the raises ‘promised’ by the Governor. I have spoken to many teachers and others who have said they would be happy with this plan, so tonight I voted to stick with it. It is important to remember that one of the main goals is to get our students back in the classroom. We have to pay state employees the best we can, and also be responsible with the taxpayers’ money.”
From his Facebook page Saturday night, Gov. Justice wrote: “Mistakes and differences aside, we’ve got to get our kids back to school. While everyone is focused on the mistakes, my focus is solely on getting our children back to school. It’s time to quit playing politics and get our kids back in school. This wrangling needs to stop right now. For crying out loud, we are putting our children at risk. I will not be a party to pitting our state employees against our teachers. I strongly feel we are blessed to have both. Education should be our centerpiece and I have worked tirelessly to get our teachers the 5 percent pay raise. Additionally, I truly want goodness for all of our state employees and all West Virginians. If revenues continue to improve I will move quickly working with the Legislature to bring the remaining state workers from 3% to the 5% raise level. But again, the bottom line is we have to be able to fill teacher classroom vacancies and we MUST get our kids back in the classroom.”
Beth Sergent is editor of Ohio Valley Publishing.