By MICHAEL VIRTANEN, Associated Press
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia needs to raise pay for jail and prison guards, teachers and other public workers as legislative priorities, according to House and Senate leaders of its Democratic minorities.
Sen. Tim Miley, addressing the West Virginia Press Association on Thursday, said the guards are a particular concern. In December, Gov. Jim Justice declared a state of emergency and authorized using the National Guard to help oversee understaffed lockups for adults and juveniles.
A guard from his district told him corrections officials are now hiring new personnel with misdemeanor convictions, determining which are less serious, Miley said.
"That's a cascade of affairs when we're hiring criminals to watch over criminals," he said. "''We can talk about eliminating this tax or that tax but there is money that we have to spend as a state as a matter of public safety, quite frankly that we need to address sooner I think than later."
One of the House Republican majority's priorities is eliminating the state tax on business inventories. Nobody in the Democratic Caucus believes that's a good tax, but lawmakers have to make sure they can balance the budget, he said.
Teachers and other state workers aren't going to accept, if the state as Gov. Jim Justice says is in better financial shape, paltry raises or promises of some future increases while tax breaks are provided elsewhere. The Democrats are not going to support eliminating the industrial equipment tax until those raises are addressed, he said.
Sen. Roman Prezioso, a former school administrator, told the press association that teachers are looking about $800 in higher monthly insurance costs that dwarf a proposed 1 percent pay raise worth about $34.
Prezioso said it's been a calm legislative session so far, "but I'm afraid it's the calm before the storm."
The House has Gov. Jim Justice's proposal for corrections pay increases before the Finance Committee, and it's already incorporated in the state budget bill, Jared Hunt, spokesman for the Republican majority, said Thursday.  Committee Chairman Eric Nelson wants to ensure the raises aren't done in a way that saddles counties with an excess burden, he said.
The committee also intends to move the bill for teacher and state employee pay raises shortly, Hunt said.
Later Thursday, Justice announced a proposal that would cut PEIA premiums for about 5,120 state employees, including teachers, where families have two state incomes.