As we near the end of the legislative session, I find myself in disbelief about the direction we have taken in the last few weeks. Until now, we’ve failed to come to an agreement on any legitimate pay raises or insurance rates for our public employees, while continuing to consider slashing tax rates for wealthy corporations. Needless to say, this session is not going well for West Virginia’s working people.
At the time of this writing, our state’s teachers and service personnel have walked off the job to get the legislative leadership to listen and work towards an equitable solution. Thousands of them from across each of West Virginia’s 55 counties have come to the Capitol to demand a solution to skyrocketing PEIA premiums and equitable pay raises. Instead of hearing our teachers and public employees out, legislative leadership and the administration have used threats and coercion to silence our state’s workers.
We made a promise four years ago to our public employees to fix PEIA and get salaries to a somewhat competitive level with surrounding states. It should come as no surprise that after four years of “kicking the can” on this issue that we have arrived at this crisis. It should also come as no surprise that we have over 700 vacancies in our school systems that have not been filled because our state’s lawmakers refuse to pay competitive wages and benefits. This approach is sending qualified teachers running to other states for a fair shake. Leaderships answer has been to offer “alternative certifications,” allowing teachers in classrooms who aren’t even required to have studied the subject that they’re teaching. The best solution to attract educators isn’t to reduce the standard of the teacher, but to make the compensation meaningful enough to maintain quality educators and support staff.
Unlike those who are not bothering to listen to working people’s concerns, I am proud to have stood up on behalf of struggling West Virginia families. I have attempted to modify spending bills in both committee and on the floor to dedicate more funding for public employee salaries and also control PEIA premiums. I supported discharging both HB 4341 from committee to dedicate natural gas severance tax, and the Miley amendment to HB 4625, dedicating surplus revenue to help fund the Public Employees Insurance Fund. Unfortunately, both proposals were voted down by the leadership of the House of Delegates. I supported HB 4145, allowing all public employees at least a 3 percent raise next year with a commitment to work towards finding a solution for public employee health care. As of this writing, Senator Carmichael refuses to even allow this bill to be discussed.
While public employees were begging for a pay raise, leadership in the House of Delegates did find time to pass a new “forced pooling” bill that will force landowners to sell their mineral rights without their consent. The Senate also passed a new measure that will shield road contractors on state road bond projects from having to disclose whether the jobs are going to out-of-state workers, instead of struggling West Virginians. SB 474’s intent is to hide from taxpayers the fact that the workforce on publicly funded projects could be imported from outside the state, if not from outside the country. That, unfortunately, is just the tip of the iceberg.
While I am disappointed in the direction that the session is taking, I will not quit working towards common sense solutions to our many problems. It is my sincere hope that both parties can come together and compromise on the issues to make life better here in West Virginia. As your delegate, I can only answer for my vote and not those of my colleagues, but I can promise you that I will not quit fighting to ensure that working men and women have access to good-paying jobs, quality health care, and the tools make a better life for themselves and their families.
As always, feel free to contact me with any issues or concerns at 304 593-5010, or by email at email@example.com. I appreciate your trust and support. Delegate Scott Brewer, 13th District.
Scott Brewer, D-New Haven, represents the 13th District in the West Virginia House of Delegates.
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