Gov. Justice tries to reassure teachers, touts freeze on PEIA, his pay raise plan

Senate President Mitch Carmichael, left, Gov. Jim Justice and House Speaker Tim Armstead appear at a news conference Thursday to discuss health insurance and teacher pay raise issues. (West Virginia Governor's Office)

West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice and House leadership made a major announcement hoping to appease teachers and state workers.

At a Thursday afternoon news conference, Justice said he has decided to delay the upcoming changes to the Public Employees Insurance Agency for the next 17 months. He calls it a fix until a permeant solution can be reached.

Justice started the news conference by saying he supports teachers and that the lawmakers have performed an economic miracle in the past year.

"We’re going to work on a solution for the problem in a long term. This is a happy day, and we will see what comes out of the legislative body and you've heard my recommendation,” Justice said.

In a packed room, Justice said the state will be paying $29 million into PEIA but any added costs for members will be delayed 17 months.

"That would give us time to really come up with a solution that would maybe lead to a permeant fix of PEIA," Justice said.

This decision comes after weeks of teacher walkouts and protests.

As for a strike, the governor said they have a right to do what they want but doesn't feel it's good for the state.

"I think it's a crying shame to do something that can hurt our children,” Justice said.

Justice continues to say he favors the 1 percent pay increase over each of the next five years. He said anymore in the first year would not make him comfortable, because he said he wouldn't be able to guarantee the money would be there.

"I would be giving the teachers the kiss of death," Justice said.

The House has other ideas. On Wednesday, the House Finance Committee approved a 2 percent increase followed by three years of a 1 percent increase.

"That is the will I sense in the House and I think that is what is coming out of finance committee. It’s what I believe will come out of the house but there is still a long way to go," House Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, said.

The American Teachers Federation of West Virginia released a statement Thursday following Justice’s news conference. The union said the governor has not fixed the issue, just frozen the changes:

A freeze is not a fix. While we’re glad our elected leaders are focusing on PEIA and listening to our concerns, the dedicated employees of West Virginia deserve real solutions. PEIA is not fixed until the Governor and legislative leaders identify a dedicated, sustainable funding stream for the plan. 'Promises won’t pay the bills,' explained AFT-WV President Christine Campbell. Governor Justice stated at the press conference that “he’s fixed PEIA for 17 months.
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