CHARLESTON — Del. Joe Statler (R- Monongalia) said Gov. Jim Justice made a promise, and his recent announcement regarding PEIA and teacher pay is another step toward keeping that promise.
In an announcement this week, Justice pledged state money toward another five percent pay raise for state workers and a permanent fix to the Public Employees Insurance Agency, vowing $100 million in the next budget.
“I think he’s living up to a commitment that we had made last year,” said Statler on WAJR’s Morgantown AM. “I’d certainly want to see the details. Just as last year’s pay raise, I always support a pay raise, but the problem was we were voting on procedure to move raises forward without knowing where the money’s coming from.”
These proposed changes come during a period of economic turnaround for the Mountain State, which Justice said is why he’s ready to propose such a change. The turnaround has been fueled by the energy sector, mostly — including revenue increases from both coal and gas severance taxes.
“We’re looking at the severance, and right now we’re seeing in both coal and the oil and gas area, and we hope to continue to see that rise and to all indications, especially in the oil and gas area, we should see that,” Statler said.
Concerns have been expressed over the timing of the pay raises. Representatives from the West Virginia AFL-CIO and the West Virginia Education Association have been critical of the potential increases in funding, despite the benefits, calling them a temporary fix disguised as a political move. While Statler does not believe the recent announcement to be a political stunt, he is skeptical about the long-term maintenance of these levels of funding.
“You can sustain that, there is no doubt about it, that the money will be there, at least next year’s budget-wise. I’m sure,” he said. “From that point on, where that money will come in, that is where the details that I would like to see.”
Despite the recent improvements in West Virginia’s economy, there are still areas of concern. Recent reports, including one from WVU Bureau of Business & Economic Research Director John Deskins, have stated the Mountain State’s recovery from levels of recession is still marred by inconsistent growth in regional economies and workforce participation.
Despite that, Statler believes the teacher raises will be approved.
“That was something that we pledged to them last year, saying we will do more if we see where we can do it,” Statler said. “Because I do believe that we don’t pay our state employees enough in today’s world.”