Updated: Senate, House Reach Deal to Give 5 Percent Pay Raise to all State Employees

Ohio County Superintendent Miller says she expects school to open Wednesday

Photo by Scott McCloskey Teachers wave and give thumbs up to passing motorists this morning near the Interstate 70 exit along National Road near the entrance to Wheeling Park.

WHEELING — Representatives of the West Virginia state Senate and the House of Delegates today agreed to a 5-percent wage increase for State Police and education employees, while also committing to finding ways to give the same pay raise to other state workers.

Ohio County schools were to be open Wednesday, Superintendent Kim Miller said this afternoon.

A conference committee meeting on House Bill 4145 this morning started more than an hour late, but began with an announcement from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Craig Blair, R-Berkeley. He said the Senate would recede on its position calling for a 4-percent pay raise, and accept the 5-percent raise based on the condition the House would agree on further cuts in the general revenue budget.

“What we have before us is what I believe is the largest pay raise in history,” Blair said.

He explained while State Police, public school teachers and school service employees are specifically addressed in HB 4145, the House has committed to working with the Senate to cut the size of government and extending the raises to all state employees through the general revenue fund budget.

Lawmakers will have to find about $20 million in the budget to cover the costs, Blair said.

“We are doing this without raising taxes,” Blair said. “There will be some pain. “Calculations will be done, and there will be very deep cuts.”

Gov. Jim Justice said additional budget cuts by his staff will fund the raises. Senate leaders confirmed the deal, saying it involves some reduced government.

“We have reached a deal. I stood rock solid on the 5-percent teacher pay raise and delivered. Not only this, but my staff and I made additional cuts which will give all state employees 5 percent as well. All the focus should have always been on fairness and getting the kids back in school,” the governor said in a tweet.

The governor, union leaders and the House of Delegates had agreed last week to the 5-percent pay raise for teachers, who are among the lowest paid in the nation and haven’t had a salary increase in four years. But the Senate refused to go along, approving a 4-percent increase.

Some teachers cheered in the hallways of the Capitol after the governor tweeted the news. Others waiting inside the meeting room indicated that they’re wary of getting excited until House and Senate majorities approve the deal.

“We’ve been down this road before,” West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee said.

Senate leaders said they’re on board this time.

“These are deep cuts,” Blair said. “This has been the fiscally responsible thing to do, in my opinion, to get us to the point we’re at today.”

Last week, Justice approved $58 million in projected new revenue for the state next year. Blair said the Senate had been skeptical of the found money.

Meanwhile, the state’s public school students have missed nine consecutive days of instruction.

The conference committee indicated both the House and Senate would suspend their rules today and allow for their consideration of the conference committee report signed this morning providing for the 5-percent raises. Rules normally governing the Legislature state both chambers must wait 24 hours before a vote on the report.

Action on the pay raise bill was expected today, legislative leaders said. That would pave the way for the measure to be sent to the governor to be signed into law.

“I would encourage superintendents of schools (to urge their) teachers and school service to go back to work in the quickest fashion possible for our students and the state of West Virginia,” Blair said.

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