CHARLESTON, WV - A little over one year ago I was sworn in as your Governor. At that time, our State was bankrupt for all practical purposes. A $500 Million deficit, growing to nearly $772 Million in the following years, and nowhere to turn was exactly where we were. You had to have little hope. All of us had to feel this way. The biggest gift I delivered to all of you across our State was a solution, a plan, a dream, and it worked. Today, we are on our way. I hope!
I promised you to always do one thing - Tell the truth. Now let's reflect: I have always stood rock solid for education. I think education should be our centerpiece. In the darkest time, the Senate supported my 2 percent pay raise and at crunch time the House Democrats were not supportive. I went to the mat for this but it failed. Now we have an election year and many, many of those that opposed are now running through the streets yelling for more to get your votes. PLEASE.
Now, I want you to read this quote when I announced my plan last year for a 2 percent raise for teachers:
"This is refreshing. We know the Governor has been talking about it, but this actually feels like walking the walk and saying we do want to keep teachers in West Virginia."
Who said that just a year ago?
That was Christine Campbell, president of the American Federation of Teachers in West Virginia.
Dale Lee, president of the West Virginia Education Association, also said this at that time.
"I'm glad that Governor Justice recognized that we have to address the teacher salary issue to attract teachers to the classroom."
Two weeks ago, I attended Town Hall meetings in Logan and Greenbrier counties. We had a variety of teachers present to discuss all these issues facing them today. The No. 1 issue in both meetings was fixing our state employee health insurance plan, PEIA. I've asked and the PEIA board has voted to eliminate the mandated participation in the Go365 program, the use of combined household income to determine rates, and to freeze the plan for 16 months while we examine it and enact a long-term solution to the PEIA problems that may exist. This alone will cost the state an additional $29 million a year. Each 1 percent of a statewide pay raise costs an additional $23 Million.
In the past year, my appointments to our great State Board of Education have 1) gotten rid of A thru F grading our schools, 2) gotten rid of all the ridiculous testing we were doing, 3) moved issues out of the Charleston bureaucracy and back to local control and even, 4) given flexibility on the school calendar back to the counties. How long have we had to put up with these burdens that are now gone?
Now, if you choose you may throw rocks at the very man that has stood steadfast in your camp. I promise you nobody knows for sure that we are out of the woods. I know our teachers are underpaid and underappreciated. But I also know that our teachers and families want us not to slip back and find our families again leaving our state seeking employment and opportunity.
I feel that many Democrats that could have helped you dove in the ditch last year and are now grandstanding because of the election year. I feel the Republicans are trying to be cautious and prudent to assure our State won't fall back and be doomed to be 50th to forever. And, I know that is exactly what I'm trying to do. I promise I will support all that can possibly be done and we will find a permanent fix for PEIA. I do this because I love all our teachers, service personnel, and especially all our children.