By Matthew Young, WV Press News Sharing
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The West Virginia House of Delegates on Monday opened the last full week of the 2022 legislative session with numerous bills before them. The House spent the majority of the floor session on third readings.
SB 531, sponsored by Sen. Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, seeks to increase the salaries of West Virginia employees, including teachers and state troopers. It was the first bill on third reading to generate any significant discussion.
Del. Jason Barrett, R-Berkeley, rose in support of the bill stating, “This is the third time in the past several years that the legislature has been able to provide a 5% pay raise for our teachers and school service personnel.”
Barrett then shifted his focus to W.Va.’s state troopers, saying, “The increase to a $10,000 pay raise (for state troopers) is the result of the ‘locality pay’ discussion that happened on this floor over a week ago.”
Barrett went on to explain that, while it is the state’s responsibility to fairly compensate its employees, “fair” does not always mean “equal.”
“The federal government has long used locality pay differentials,” Barrett continued. “If they didn’t, no federal workers could ever afford to live in cities like D.C. and New York. When Col. Cahill, the person who we trust to lead our state police, presented his budget request to the finance committee, he spoke about the trooper crises in the Eastern Panhandle. I do not believe that Col. Cahill was in any way suggesting that troopers across our state do not deserve this pay increase, and neither am I.”
Barrett summed up his point by stating “We are in no way suggesting that their life is worth more. But it is quite clear that their home costs more.”
Del. Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, then suggested that a military-style “basic housing/basic sustenance” concept be explored. After nearly 12-minutes of discussion, House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, attempted to curtail external debate: “The bill before us does not address locality pay, so we’ll ask members to confine the debate to the merits of the bill before us.”
SB 531 was ultimately passed unanimously by the House.
SB 636, again sponsored by Baldwin, which seeks to supplement and amend appropriations to the Department of Revenue, also generated some discussion.
“I’d like to draw the body’s attention to one very important detail,” Said Del. Daniel Linville, R-Cabell. “We appropriated $2 million to the Department of Revenue. If you’ll recall, the justification for that was they were going to be able to remodel a building, and eliminate $600,000 a year in expenses for rent.”
Linville further explained that the new budget shows approximately $75,000 in “moving expenses,” but does not reflect a $600,000 reduction.
“I would ask where is the taxpayer’s $525,184?” Linville said. “I urge rejection.”
SB 636 was passed by the margin of 67 for, and 30 against.
The final third reading of the morning was SB 637. Sponsored by Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, the bill seeks to appropriate $15 million to the governor’s Civil Contingent Fund. Under the provisions of the bill, the Executive branch would have full discretion over distribution of the funds to bolster local economies.
Del. Geoff Foster, R-Putnam, expressed strong reservations about the bill’s passage, saying, “I’m going to urge rejection of this bill.”
“We just heard (discussion) about issues with $8.9 million, which was the trooper’s fund,” Foster continued. “You know how we could guarantee that that money would be there and the Senate couldn’t say no to that? We could vote down this appropriation.”
Del. Todd Longanacre, R-Greenbrier, echoed Foster’s sentiment. However, his concerns were of a different nature.
“Do you recall over the past year the governor has incentivized people getting jabs (COVID-19 vaccinations) by paying for bass boats, trucks, deer rifles, and a lot of other stuff?” Longancre asked. “We’re in an election year, and COVID is taking a smoke break. But after November when the potential of COVID comes back, could some of this money be used to buy an RV, or help a lady in White Sulphur Springs win $1 million for getting a jab?”
Del Eric Householder, R-Berkeley, chairman of the House’s Committee on Finance, responded to Longancre’s question.
“No, this is set up for recommendations,” Householder said. “If you had a recommendation for a senior center – maybe the heating system went down. You could write a letter to the governor and say we need additional funding. That’s what it’s used for.”
SB 637 was passed by a margin of 89 for and 8 against. Upon conclusion of the vote, Foster spoke again, saying, “I plan to ask the governor for 8.9 million out of the Civil Contingency Fund for the trooper’s pay raise if the Senate does not approve it.”
Additional bills passed upon third reading by the House include:
- SB 515: Supplementing and amending appropriations of public moneys to Department of Administration, Public Defender Services.
- SB 517: Expiring funds from unappropriated balance in State Excess Lottery Revenue Fund.
- SB 525: Expiring funds from unappropriated balance in Lottery Net Profits.
- SB 526: Supplementing and amending appropriations to Department of Commerce, Office of Secretary.
- SB 527: Supplementing and amending appropriations to Department of Administration, Office of Technology.
- SB 626: Supplementing, amending, and increasing existing items of appropriation from State Road Fund to DOT, DMV.
- SB 627: Supplementing, amending, and increasing existing item of appropriation from State Road Fund to DOT, DOH.
- SB 628: Supplementing and amending appropriations to Department of Commerce, DNR.
- SB 629: Supplementing and amending appropriations to Department of Education, WV BOE, Vocational Division.
- SB 630: Supplementing and amending appropriations to Higher Education Policy Commission, Administration – Control Account.