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Debt paydown, teacher raise bill doesn’t progress out of WV House


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia House of Delegates adjourned Wednesday evening without passing to the Senate a bill that would have extended the paydown period for the Teachers’ Retirement System debt and also granted a statewide pay raise for classroom teachers.

“It is dead,” House Finance Committee Chairman Eric Nelson, R-Kanawha, said of House Bill 2817. “For all intents and purposes, dead. Just at the end of the day it was something we tried to work with the governor and the governor seriously didn’t have any movable interest, so no sense in moving forward.”

Wednesday was “crossover day,” the deadline for when bills generally are supposed to be passed out of their houses of origin to survive this year’s legislative session.

A spokesman for Democratic Gov. Jim Justice said that, according to Jeffrey Fleck, executive director of the state’s Consolidated Public Retirement Board, the bill would’ve cost taxpayers an extra $1.55 billion to fully pay down that pension debt.

Nelson said the GOP-controlled Legislature still has time in this year’s session to override Justice’s vetoes of bills, but said that “if we need to pick a battle, that will be on some other subject.”

House Education Committee Chairman Paul Espinosa, R-Jefferson and a co-sponsor of the bill, said before adjournment Wednesday evening that he heard concerns about the bill and he was concerned about it personally, though he didn’t know then whether he would vote against it.

He said he got a sense that there wasn’t a lot of support from the Senate for the bill and understood that the governor had expressed concerns.

“I think probably those things may be the reason why it’s currently on the inactive calendar,” Espinosa said. He said he was a co-sponsor on the bill “just to provide an option.”

“At this point I think the goal has been here to provide as many different options as we can to fill our budget gap,” he said, saying he felt it was at least worthy of further discussion.

Nelson said HB 2817 would’ve “reamortized” the Teachers’ Retirement System unfunded liability, saving the state $70 million annually in debt payments over a 30-year period but increasing the total payment period by an additional eight years.

Nelson said that because of the bill’s failure, his House Finance budget now doesn’t include a teacher pay raise. Other bills possibly could be amended to still include the raise.

The statewide $808-per-classroom-teacher pay raise originally was in Justice’s wide-ranging K-12 bill, the House version of which is labeled House Bill 2711.

Before that bill got to the House floor, Nelson’s committee moved the teacher pay raise to HB 2817.

House Finance also removed — and didn’t move elsewhere — the school service personnel raise that the House Education had added to Justice’s version. School service personnel include bus drivers, cooks and custodians.

On Tuesday, delegates had put off action on the bill and the House Rules Committee put it on the inactive calendar.

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