by Ron Gregory
CHARLESTON – Republicans were celebrating while Democrats were unimpressed by two announcements this morning by Governor Jim Justice.
Referring to months of state revenues exceeding expectations, Justice said he will dedicate $100 million to finding a long-term solution for the state’s insurance program, PEIA.
“We are announcing that we’re going to dedicate $100 million today, $100 million toward a long-term solution of fixing PEIA and stabilizing it in the future,” Justice said.
Then the governor pledged another five percent salary increase for teachers and all state employees.
With Republican legislators surrounding him, Democrats immediately labeled the announcements as part of a campaign to re-elect GOP candidates.
Democrat state chair Belinda Biafore said, when education is involved, “you can’t trust the state Republican party.”
But Justice gave nearly all the credit for a recent five percent pay increase to himself and the Republicans who control the legislature.
The governor continued a theme President Donald Trump began in Wheeling over the weekend when he criticized Logan’s Democrat State Senator Richard Ojeda. Ojeda once claimed he became a “super star” as a result of the teacher strike that led to the already-approved pay increase.
“Ojeda running through the halls yelling, ‘rah-rah-rah-rah-rah’ what has he done? We can measure what these people have done. Rah-rahing is absolutely nothing more than what Lou Holtz has said is piling on. Someone else makes the tackle and you pile on,” the governor said.
Justice, who was elected as a Democrat but switched to Republican shortly thereafter, pointed out that the commitments come without having to raise any taxes.
Biafore, the Democrat chair, was outspoken in her comments. “When it comes to education in West Virginia the records show you just can’t trust Republicans. During the legislative session Republican leadership obstructed progress every time Democrats stood up with a solution for significant pay raises and a way to fund and fix PEIA. Now here they are standing up today taking credit for what teachers, school service personnel and state employees accomplished by standing up for what they deserve.
“Governor Justice and Republican leadership clearly lied to West Virginia about the money available for the future of PEIA and the education system and kept our teachers and students out of the classroom for 10 days,” the chair said.