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W.Va. Senate Passes Amended House Budget Bill, Teacher Pay Raises Could Force Special Session

Martin Valent
WV Legislative Photography
The West Virginia Senate chambers.

The West Virginia Senate has completed its part of next year’s state budget.

The Senate passed House Bill 2020 on a 20-14 vote. The split was along party lines with Republicans voting in support of the bill and Democrats going against the measure.

The Senate amended its budget bill into the House’s version on Tuesday. There are significant differences between the two chamber’s budgets.

The Senate’s version doesn’t account for teacher and school service personnel pay raises, as the upper chamber hasn’t cleared that measure.

Senate Finance Chair Craig Blair pointed out that while those raises aren’t included in what they sent back over to the House, other raises are included in House Bill 2020.

“The teachers pay raises are not there, but state employees pay raises are -- 5 percent for all the state employees -- are in there,” Blair said.

He said that educator pay raises aren’t entirely off the table.

The bill includes pay raises for state police -- a measure which has yet to pass the House.

Wednesday afternoon, the House Finance Committee amended the state police pay raises found in Senate Bill 544. What was once a $3,000 increase each year for three years has become a 5 percent raise for state police employees.

That measure will be on the floor amendment stage Thursday in the House

However, Blair gave no indication that the teacher and service personnel raises would be completed by Day 60 of the legislative session on Saturday.

“We're making sure that people that didn't strike the session -- while we were trying to work -- are receiving the pay raises that we said that we’d give,” Blair said.

He noted that he would still like to implement some aspects of education reform -- like charter schools and education savings accounts -- that failed earlier this session.

House Minority Leader Roman Prezioso said the hangup on teacher and service personnel pay raises is likely to force a special session.

“There doesn't appear to be any resolve,” Prezioso said.

The $13.7 billion budget bill -- of which $4.7 billion is appropriated from the general revenue fund -- now heads back to the House of Delegates for reconciliation.

A small group of lawmakers from both chambers, known as a conference committee, is expected to hash out the budget’s final details.

“Going to conferees, the problem you get into is that there are so many differences between the House budget and the Senate budget,” Prezioso said. “Something's going to have to be cut out. You're going to have to cut out roads, you're going to have to cut out the intermediate courts, you're just going to have to cut a lot of different things to get where you want to be.”

Whether the budget heads to conferees or is agreed upon short of that, the budget would head to Gov. Jim Justice for a signature. He has limited veto power on its contents.

Gov. Justice has issued a proclamation calling for the session to be extended one day for the budget if needed. The 60 Day legislative session ends Saturday, March 9 at midnight.

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