Delegates pass $4.38 billion budget; Provides $150 million in pay raises and no new taxes

By Connect Clarksburg Staff | March 09, 2018
The House of Delegates Thursday evening unanimously passed a balanced $4.38 billion General Revenue Fund budget that includes an across-the-board average 5-percent pay raise for teachers, school service personnel, State Police and public employees, while controlling all other government spending growth.
“With this budget, we are being responsible stewards of the taxpayers’ money while also providing our teachers, service personnel and state employees with the best pay and benefits our resources will allow,” said House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha.
The House voted 98-0 to approve House Bill 4019, the Fiscal Year 2019 Budget Bill, the framework of which had been negotiated with Senate leaders earlier this week as part of an agreement to provide an average 5-percent pay raise to public employees.
While the $4.38 billion General Revenue budget is $156 million more than last year’s $4.22 billion budget, that spending increase is primarily attributed to the increased public employee pay package along with increased funding to the Public Employees Insurance Agency to ensure there are no changes to premiums, deductibles or out-of-pocket health expenses for the coming year.
“When you combine the raises with increased funding to PEIA and our retirement plans, this budget provides more than $150 million in increased pay and benefits to our public employees over the coming year,” said House Finance Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha. “That is a substantial investment in our teachers, service personnel and state employees – and is all being done without a single tax increase.”
The Republican proposal to fund the pay raises and to fund PEIA was supported unanimously by the Democrat members of the House.
"We are pleased to support this legislation," said Tim Miley, House Minority Leader and former Speaker of the House.
The various pay raises for teachers, service personnel, corrections officers, State Police and state employees added an additional $107.5 million to the budget. The increased pay triggered an additional $15 million in required contributions to state retirement plans, while $29 million was added to the PEIA program to ensure there were no changes in the coming year.
"I know we didn't respond as quickly as our constituents wanted.  But the strike demonstrated to the entire legislature the support our teachers, school employees and other state employees have from the general public.  I received more phone calls from parents and concerned citizens that it was time for the legislature to address PEIA and pay raises," said freshman Delegate Ben Queen of Harrison County.
"I've been in the legislature for 13 months.  Some members have been here for 13 years.  And these problems have been around for a very long time," Queen said.
Queen said that he heard from constituents that addressing PEIA was the priority issue for public employees.  With this legislation, premiums for current and retired teachers and public employees will not be increased and benefits will not be reduced.
Richard Iaquinta is a long term member of the legislature who also represents Harrison County.  Iaqunita is a retired school teacher and coach.
"It's about time.  It's about time that we (the legislature) addressed these issues.  And remember, this is just a start," Iaquinta told teachers on Wednesday.
The spending plan approved by the House does not include Gov. Jim Justice’s recent $58 million boost to state revenue projections. Chairman Nelson said that if that additional revenue comes in over the course of the fiscal year, lawmakers can pass supplemental appropriation bills to allocate the funding to other areas of need.
“With this budget, we are being prudent and making sure our revenue estimates hit the mark first before planning any additional spending,” Chairman Nelson said.
“Above all, this budget respects our taxpayers,” Speaker Armstead said. “Because we held the line against spending increases in recent years, we’ve made our government more efficient. Now that our economy is beginning to improve – thanks to our infrastructure investments and Republican federal tax reforms – we are in a better position to invest in our people and plan for the future.”
House Bill 4019 now goes to the Senate. In a separate action Thursday, the Senate also unanimously voted to approve their version of the budget (Senate Bill 152), which is very similar to the House’s budget bill, and send it to the House.
The House and Senate will need to reconcile their separate versions of the Budget Bill before it is passed into law. Leadership of both houses is committed to passing the budget and sending it Gov. Jim Justice before the regular session ends Saturday at midnight.

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