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Senate OKs teacher pay raise 'on borrowed money'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Legislators are using more than $34 million in borrowed money to provide a pay raise for public school teachers and service personnel, Sen. Brooks McCabe, D-Kanawha, warned Wednesday.

The bill (SB391) passed the Senate on Wednesday by a 31-2 vote, with McCabe and Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, voting no.

McCabe said afterward that he voted against the bill not because he doesn't support better pay for teachers but because there is no revenue source to cover the increase.

"Clearly, we don't have the resources this year to make these salary increases," he said. "We did it, in my opinion, on borrowed money."

Given the state's current economy, McCabe said, the Legislature will have to dip into reserve funds this year, again next year, and possibly again the following year -- fiscal 2016-17 -- to balance state budgets. That would make the real impact of the pay increase closer to $70 million or $100 million, he said.

Before passing the bill Wednesday, the Senate changed a proposed 2 percent raise for teachers to an across-the-board increase of $837. The bill retains a 2 percent pay increase for service personnel.

Senate Education Chairman Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, said the amendment allows the Legislature to provide larger increases for new teachers, bringing the starting salary to $32,512, while staying within the $34.24 million cost figure.

Education Committee members had amended the bill to provide a $1,000 across-the-board increase, but that would have pushed the annual cost of the raises to close to $40 million.

Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, said that as it became clear the Legislature was not going to approve any tax increases this session, "we realized we couldn't afford another $5 million."

McCabe, whose term is up this year and who is not seeking re-election, argued that it is bad public policy to give raises without a specific source of revenue or cost-savings through efficiencies to offset the cost.

"We just said, 'We're going to pay you now and address these issues later,'" he said.

McCabe contrasted the teacher pay bill with legislation (SB486) that passed the Senate 33-0 Wednesday to increase salaries for West Virginia State Police forensic lab technicians and analysts by 30 percent.

While those increases will cost about $700,000 a year, McCabe said, it should reduce a backlog of inmates in regional jails whose trials are delayed while awaiting results of forensic testing of evidence. That could save the state as much as $5 million a year in jail costs, he said, so the salary increase should more than pay for itself.

McCabe also noted that occasional small pay adjustments will not make state teachers' salaries competitive nationally.

"It's not going to take $34 million, but hundreds of millions to bring them to the middle of the salary scale," he said.

McCabe said the Legislature needs to work with educators to redesign the public schools system "so we can live within our means."

Both pay increase bills now go to the House of Delegates. The legislative session ends March 8.

Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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