WHEELING - Citing higher average public school teacher salaries in neighboring states, West Virginia Senate President Jeff Kessler and fellow Northern Panhandle Democrats support Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's plan to raise educator pay by 2 percent.
However, Republican Ohio County Delegates Erikka Storch and Ryan Ferns hoped to hear Tomblin offer more support for small businesses during the Wednesday state of the state address.
"Education is such a critical component of our economy and our efforts to create and retain jobs," Kessler said. "In order to attract and retain quality teachers, we need to make their salaries more competitive."
"In a tight budget year, there were not a lot of bells and whistles," Kessler added. "We are not going to make promises we cannot keep."
"A teachers' pay raise is well-deserved," said Sen. Jack Yost, D-Brooke. "To get the best teachers, you have to offer them more money. Our surrounding states of Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Ohio all pay higher salaries for teachers, so we need to make this more competitive."
While agreeing with the teacher pay issue, Sen. Rocky Fitzsimmons, D-Ohio, said he trusts Tomblin's ability to "navigate the tough financial waters ahead" regarding a projected budget shortfall.
Sen. Larry Edgell, D-Wetzel, and Delegate Mike Ferro, D-Marshall, also expressed support for raising teacher pay. Fitzsimmons joined them in hoping that Odebrecht will build an ethane cracker complex near Parkersburg.
"The cracker would mean about 10,000 construction jobs," Ferro said. "We need to improve our education system so that workers are prepared to enter the Marcellus Shale industry."
"There is a lot of potential in the Marcellus with the frackers and crackers," Edgell added.
Both Ferns and Storch appreciated Tomblin's recognition that a substantial number of West Virginians work for small businesses. They hoped to hear more talk of creating a "level playing field" for those businesses, however.
"Instead of creating one-time incentive packages for huge corporations, we need to make the system fair for everyone," Ferns said. "We need to make the overall business climate more appealing in this state."
"I am glad the governor acknowledged the efforts of small businesses, but there did not seem to be a lot aimed at helping small businesses," Storch added.