Governor Justice proposed pay raises for all West Virginia State Employees, they have always been and still are on the agenda.
The West Virginia Legislature is 23 days into the 60-day session. The State’s economic circumstances are much better this year because we fought off big spending and tax plans last year. President Trump rolled back many of the job killing regulations that were strangling our coal, and other industries; as a result some jobs are coming back and the state’s income in the form of tax revenue is improving.
I am on the Finance Committee; our job is to receive reports from department heads, work within the Governor’s budgetary guidelines, and determine where adjustments may be needed. We also determine if funds are available to fund expenditures created by new legislation.
A major priority this year has been to provide for overdue pay increases for state employees; that includes corrections officers, state police, teachers, department of highways workers, and others. Governor Justice announced these plans during his State Of The State Address on Jan. 10, and this has always been on the agenda. We were also advised of proposed changes to PEIA, which is health insurance for state employees where the state, from current taxes, pays 80 percent of the premium and the employee pays 20 percent. This has been an important issue because of the ever increasing cost of health care, and insurance. Although the legislature has added huge sums of money to offset rising cost; still some of the rising cost has been born by recipients.
The legislation that the House has passed so far has been administrative in nature, and mostly agreeable to everyone. Last week things heated up though when on Friday, for political purposes, the minority party attempted to bypass the normal legislative procedures and force a premature vote on a pay raise bill for teachers, leaving out raises for other state employees, like state police, corrections officers, DOH, and others. If successful that would have bypassed the committees which specialize in each area of policy. It also would have forced us to vote before we have even gotten through the budgetary reporting. I voted yes on a procedural motion to advance pay raise legislation through the appropriate committees; we will pass a pay raise bill after careful consideration. I have taken considerable heat on social media, and I am sure elsewhere for that yes vote, but I will not be rushed into making an irresponsible decision. Anything we do now will not take effect until July, so there is plenty of time in the regular session to get this done correctly.
On the subject of PEIA I have been involved in meetings with legislative leaders and the governor’s staff to work on modifications to the changes which were most objectionable to state employees. I arranged for a meeting for local school board members to speak with the Senate President, the Education Committee Vice Chairman and the Governor’s Chief of Staff. Since then the governor has withdrawn requirements for participation into a health management plan know as Go 365, and it now appears that changes will be made to the plan which would have combined incomes of spouses working for the state for the purposes of calculating rates.
On Thursday last week, as reported in the Point Pleasant register, I traveled from the Capitol to the Mason County School Board office to answer questions for about 500 teachers and service personnel on the subject of PEIA and pay raises. When I spoke with them I began by saying that they may not be happy with what I had to say, but that I wanted to let them know details of the original plan proposed by the PEIA board, not the legislature, followed by recent changes. I was correct; understandably, due to lack of correct information, the room was emotionally charged and I was unfortunately not able to let them know that some of the issues that they were so concerned about had already been addressed.
In other areas I am working on the Health Committee to more closely manage drugs which are commonly abused, and for treatment for victims.
In Finance Committee, I am working to eliminate unnecessary spending, and prevent excessive growth of government, which drain funds away from obligations of the state, and more importantly drains tax dollars from working West Virginians. The governor has also embraced, and proposed, several initiatives to help bring more jobs to West Virginia. We are looking into the cost and benefit because job creation has to remain one of our top priorities. More people working means more revenue for all the important things state government does.
In Homeland Security Committee, I am still trying to get legislation on the agenda to require reporting so the legislature can better understand how refugees are placed in West Virginia, how they are doing, and if there are any security concerns which have not been addressed.
On the subject of jobs I cannot say how happy I am to have seen the public announcement that the M&G Polymer plant in Apple Grove is apparently on the verge of being purchased by a company which will continue its operation. I don’t know details of the entire plan but I look forward to hearing more details as this progresses.
I am happy to report that the 14th District and all of Mason and Putnam County has been well represented by students participating in the Page Program. We are all grateful for their help. Please, everyone, pray for the United States, West Virginia, and for wisdom for everyone who is making important decisions on our behalf. It is an honor to serve you.
Jim Butler (R-Gallipolis Ferry), represents the 14th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.