Teacher’s Pension Left On Table

West Virginia teachers seeking to transfer their pension benefits to the State Teacher’s Retirement System were left waiting Saturday evening — but that wait should only take another week.

Teachers will get a $1,600 pay raise, however, through legislation passed Saturday by the House and Senate.

Bills eliminating the state’s business franchise tax, allocating $50 million in research funding to state universities, and allowing businesses to partner with government to build roads — and charge tolls to recoup their cost for construction, ongoing maintenance and also to make a profit — were among measures passed in the late hours Saturday by the West Virginia Legislature.

Also passed was the teachers’ pay raise issue.

Lawmakers concluded their regular 60-day session at midnight Saturday.

But what both legislative chambers failed to come to agreement on during the session were bills relating to a bailout of municipal pensions, adding sexual orientation to existing housing discrimination laws, and merging the state’s two teacher pension systems.

Most termed the session a somewhat slow one — and one in which legislators did pass themselves a pay raise in an election year.

Bills that passed include:

? House Bill 680, which combined a number of Gov. Joe Manchin’s proposals for state tax reform, is on its way to the governor for his signature.

The bill eliminates the state’s business franchise tax beginning in 2015, and also phases out the corporate net income tax to 6.5 percent for tax years 2014 and after.

The measure promises to save employers $149 million annually on inventory, business franchise and corporate net income taxes when it is fully implemented.

The Senate voted 24-9 to send it to the governor.

? Manchin’s “Bucks for Brains” proposal to provide a combined $50 million in research funding to West Virginia University and Marshall University was among the measures finalized in the Legislature Saturday night. The bill allocates $35 million to WVU and $15 million to Marshall.

? Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, was among those sponsoring HB 4476, which allows businesses to partner with government to build future roadways — and then charge a toll on them to pay the debt on the initial construction, ongoing maintenance and also for profit. The measure was among those passed in the late hours on Saturday.

? The legislative pay raise approved this year by lawmakers lifts their pay from $15,000 to $20,000, and also increases the daily expense allowance for legislators staying in Charleston during legislative sessions from $115 to $131.

Bills that did not pass include:

? House Bill 4496 would have allowed teachers currently enrolled in the Teachers’ Defined Contribution System to transfer their assets to the State Teacher’s Retirement System.

The measure passed the House but at Manchin’s urging the Senate tabled the bill while officials figure out how the state will pay for the plan.

Manchin plans to have lawmakers work on the matter as they consider the state’s budget this upcoming week.

“My commitment is, if we don’t have a bill coming out today, we will definitely have a bill before we leave here that’s compassionate but fair,” Manchin said.

Teacher groups, who helped draft the compromise, decried its apparent demise and faulted Manchin for failing to include them in Saturday’s talks.

“That was showing a great deal of progress,” West Virginia Education Association President Charles DeLauder of Middlebourne said of the draft. “Unfortunately, it did not occur.”

? Another pension-related bill never reached conference stage. Lawmakers will instead use their monthly interim meetings to study how to best help cities and towns struggling with underfunded police and fire pension plans. Wheeling is one of several towns in the state facing a large unfunded liability with the pension funds.