Charleston, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed legislation Tuesday afternoon that will provide all public employees in West Virginia with a 5 percent pay raise, ending a nine-day teacher walkout that closed all public schools to about 277,000 students in the state.
The signing of the bill provided not just a joyous occasion for teachers who had jammed the state Capitol over the course of the walkout, but also a sense of relief for embattled legislators and resignation from a few senators who had stood in the way of the pay package since last week, when the governor had announced the plan and the House immediately passed the bill on a 98-1 vote.
The Senate balked and held the bill up for four days, expressing skepticism with the governor’s revised estimate of an additional $58 million in tax revenues for next year.
The governor stood by his numbers, as did the House, and on Tuesday morning it was clear that Senate opposition had failed.
Before the Senate passed the bill, many senators spoke in favor of its passage. Republicans said they wanted to have an across-the-board pay raise for all employees, but they said they had to take a look at the numbers before reaching that deal.
“It took longer than people would like, but I feel good about this product,” said Sen. Ryan Ferns, R-Ohio.
Over the course of the walkout, teachers jammed the Capitol, carrying signs, shouting slogans, singing songs of protest and watching action in both chambers from the public galleries.
Following the passage, AFT-WV President Christine Campbell said she saw a sense of relief.
“I saw relief in people’s faces today. I saw tears of joy, tears of relief. I heard folks saying, ‘Yes. We want to be back in school,’ “ Campbell said.
Still on the table is public employees’ health care managed through the Public Employees Insurance Agency. A task force to study remedies to rising health care costs and premiums will meet next week to begin its effort to find a stable funding source for the program
“I think everyone wants to work to find a long-term solution for health insurance for state employees,” Campbell said. “The process is the task force and then a proposed plan and then you have the next legislative session. So many things can happen in a positive direction because of what’s happened in the session.”
Democrats said they supported the new version of the bill, but they expressed concern that its cost may bring cuts to other programs.