West Virginia Senate sends pay raise bill to Senate Finance Committee

The West Virginia Senate voted Thursday to not immediately consider a pay raise bill for school and state employees on the floor and to instead refer it to the Senate Finance Committee.

No meeting of the Senate Finance Committee has been scheduled to take up the House bill that calls for giving education-related employees and State Police a 5 percent raise. The motion to table the bill for immediate consideration passed 20-14.

Pay raises were part of the deal Gov. Jim Justice included in an agreement with union leaders in an attempt to halt a statewide strike. The deal also includes appointing a task force to look at a long-term fix for the Public Employees Insurance Agency. Senate President Mitch Carmichael said prior to the floor session in an interview with MetroNews that he favors shifting $58 million in new revenue the governor wants to use for the pay raises and instead to use it to stabilize PEIA.

On Thursday, there was spirited debate on the floor about the pay raise bill sent over from the House.

Senate John Unger, D-Berkeley, called for a suspension of rules and an immediate vote on the floor on the pay raise bill.

“Let’s get this done on the floor so teachers can get back to the classroom,” Unger said.

Unger said if it didn’t get done in the Senate Thursday, everyone in West Virginia should come to the Capitol and make their voices heard.

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Maroney, R-Marshall, said he would vote on the pay raise right now, but he would rather see it go to the Finance Committee so he could see all of the options.

“I don’t think because there’s pressure on us we should bypass the process,” Maroney said.

Maroney said he believes school and state employees are deserving of a raise, but he just wants to hear the options before a vote is taken.

A fiery Sen. Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, wanted to know why a proposal he had earlier to tax natural gas didn’t pass. He said it would have created $70 million to $75 million right off the bat.

“We’ve got companies coming into this state that are going to make millions and billions at what is sitting under our feet,” Ojeda said.

At least one senator, Sen. Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, expressed concern about new revenue estimates.

“I want to bank my budget on what I know I have,” Takubo said. “What happens if they’re wrong?”

Takubo said he would like for State Police and teachers to be the best paid in the region, but lawmakers have to work with what they have. He also mentioned the task force that is going to be appointed to address PEIA problems.

“I think the plan to move forward is to get PEIA stabilized until we can get this done,” Takubo said.

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