State lawmakers from the Eastern Panhandle met Tuesday for the Berkeley County Chamber of Commerce's annual Legislative Wrap-Up Breakfast in Martinsburg, where education and the teacher pay raise took center stage.
Every year after the regular state Legislative session ends, Eastern Panhandle lawmakers come together to recap the session for their constituents. This time, education issues and the five percent pay increase for teachers, service personnel and public employees stirred up most of the discussion.
Debate over pay increases sparked a nine-day work stoppage by teachers and other school workers until lawmakers agreed to a five percent raise near the end of the session.
But not all affected by that raise were satisfied.
Many still voiced concern over the health insurance program (PEIA) for state employees, while others argued five percent just wasn’t enough.
Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, of Berkeley County, said at Tuesday's event that more work needs to be done regarding pay increases, but he argues, the state needs to do it within its means.
“We want to make it so that we grow the tax base in the state of West Virginia, and when we grow that tax base, then we don’t have pay issues,” he noted.
Blair said the way to boost pay raises and other financial issues in West Virginia is to attract more industry and get workforce participation up.
Other issues discussed by lawmakers at the Legislative Wrap-Up, ranged from solutions for combating the opioid epidemic, to the future of medical cannabis in West Virginia, to pride over passing the FY 2019 budget within the 60-day session.