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Committee wants bigger pay raise for teachers

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A teacher pay raise bill proposed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has undergone some drastic changes.

Senate Bill 391 cleared the Senate Feb. 26. That version maintained the 2 percent increase for teachers Tomblin proposed in his State of the State address.

But now the bill is moving through the House, where members of the House Education Committee, often regarded as teacher-friendly, changed the bill to give teachers and school service personnel even more money.

Delegate Dave Walker, D-Clay, proposed a multi-year aid package that would give teachers a $6,000 raise over three years and about $3,600 to school service personnel.

"I was trying to bring our teachers into the national picture with salaries in surrounding states and across the nation," Walker said. "I didn't want to forget the service personnel who work so hard. I want to bring them along, too."

The salary increase for teachers alone is estimated to cost $90 million, about three times more than the 2 percent increase passed by the Senate.

With the raise for service personnel -- bus drivers, cooks, custodians --projected to cost tens of millions of dollars, some delegates worried about potential tax increases that could come in a couple of years as a result of the legislation.

"I would encourage everyone to take a look at this amendment and consider in your own minds whether it is fiscally responsible to look at our budget reductions for next year and the following year an support this motion when, in two years, we know we wont have the money to pay for it without tax increases," said Delegate Mary Poling, D-Barbour and chairwoman of the House Education Committee.

The committee initially considered a strike-and-insert amendment that would have reverted the bill back to a $1,000 across-the-board raise for teachers-legislation the Senate Education Committee passed last month. The Senate Finance Committee, however, amended the bill to maintain the governor's proposed raise and save the state money.

Walker's amendment actually changed an amendment initially offered by Delegate Amanda Pasdon, R-Monongalia. Pasdon's amendment would have given teachers a $1,500 across-the-board raise.

Her amendment was adopted even after State Budget Office Director Mike McKown cautioned against taking money from the workers' compensation liability repayment fund and the teachers' retirement system fund, as Pasdon suggested.

Poling pointed out underfunding the teachers retirement system in the past contributed to the huge liability the state currently faces. That fund is scheduled to be repaid by 2034.

"They didn't have a plan in place to underfund, but that's why you're paying huge unfunded liabilities," McKown said. "It certainly would have a negative impact not only on the repayment of teachers retirement or workers' compensation debt, but would have a negative impact on our bond ratings as well as how Wall Street views us." 

Pasdon's amendment was adopted 16-6.

Walker had no suggestions for how the state would pay for his multi-year aid package, but his amendment drew bipartisan support.

"I think it addresses our problem long term and in a better fashion," said Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh. "In three years our teachers will be much better off. It would bring the base salary up much better for our teachers and help our service personnel also. I think it's a win for all of us."

Walker's amendment was adopted on voice vote. The House Education Committee passed out its amended version of the bill, which will now go to the House Finance Committee.

Delegate Brent Boggs, D-Braxton, said he expects the Finance Committee to take up the bill today.

 


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