$100 million investment

Last week, West Virginia’s Republican Leadership announced a $100 million funding commitment that significantly stabilizes and strengthens Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA), as well as a proposed five percent pay raise for teachers and state employees. When passed, this will be the second straight year with a five percent pay raise for teachers, and the $100 million investment comes on the heels of the $30 million injected by the Republican run legislature into PEIA this past March.

The fact is, our economy has been rapidly expanding thanks to the pro-growth policies of this Republican-led legislature, which has resulted in increased business investment, more jobs, higher wages, and a historic $120 million surplus for Fiscal Year 2019 – the highest West Virginia has ever seen.

With the strong economic winds at our back, we want to continue to invest in the devoted educators across our state who work tirelessly to prepare West Virginia students for college and career success in today’s 21st century economy. And by supporting our teachers, we are supporting our students and fostering a stronger West Virginia economic future for generations to come.

So how will this infusion of capital into PEIA actually help West Virginians? Simple – it stabilizes PEIA so that participants do not have to worry about year over year premium increases.

As a member of the PEIA outreach subcommittee, I have attended 11 meetings across the state and listened to a variety of opinions and suggestions. The common theme I heard from many citizens is that people want their state health insurance program to be stable and provide effective coverage

Much of the discussion revolved around cost and coverage issues, with the primary concern of PEIA participants being the fear of dramatic annual increases to their premiums. While pay raises like the one we passed this year are welcome, the fear for our teachers, that their take-home pay could actually decrease because of the rising cost of insurance coverage, is real. Therefore, any PEIA solution had to remove the anxiety of unaffordable cost increases on the participants.

That is just what this $100 million will do — it relieves PEIA participants from massive premium increases that negate the hard-earned pay raises we are also passing. This is a win for West Virginians now and it is a win for West Virginians in the future.

Unfortunately, it seems that the union bosses are once again putting politics over people. Rather than applauding this investment and pay raise for teachers and public workers, West Virginia AFL-CIO President Josh Sword immediately tried to turn it into a political battle while they try to find ways to obstruct and oppose. Perhaps it was because the union bosses are frustrated that the pro-growth policies of a Republican-led legislature have done more to help our citizens in four years than the Democrats did for them in 83 years.

As with our economic comeback, the work on PEIA is not yet done. The $100 million infusion will help stabilize PEIA, but we must continue to work on a long-term solution that will insure the health of the program for generations. That is why it is so crucial that we continue to focus on pro-growth economic initiatives that will power West Virginia’s comeback and allow us to increase revenues, all without raising taxes and while balancing a budget.

As we move into 2019, the Republican-led legislature will continue to focus on enacting strong fiscal policies, but we will also look to improve our education system for the long term so that the next generation of innovators and business leaders stay in West Virginia. And we look forward to the continued success of President Trump, whose rock-solid leadership in Washington has led to a 3.7 percent national unemployment rate — the lowest since Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon.

I truly believe that it is morning in West Virginia. After more than eight decades of Democrats mismanaging our state, Republicans have taken charge and returned the power of innovation and entrepreneurship to the people. The results have been staggering and we intend to keep delivering.

Carmichael is President of the West Virginia Senate.

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