PEIA promises facing criticism

Ever chew yourself out for missing a bargain or, perhaps, a chance to make some money through an investment, because you didn’t have enough money to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself?

It may have been a jewel of a used car offered at a bargain price by a friend. But you didn’t have the cash, so you had to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

Or perhaps the same friend needed a loan and promised to pay you back with 50 percent interest. As trustworthy as he is, you had to say no because you didn’t have the cash to loan.

What if, six months after either of those situations, you learned your finances had been in better shape than you thought? You could have bought the car. You could have profited by helping your friend.

But you didn’t know that at the time. With a family to feed, you made the right, responsible decision with the information you had.

Now you know how West Virginia legislators and Gov. Jim Justice feel.

You also know why those criticizing them for what they didn’t do last spring are dead wrong. But they know that. Their current criticism is blatant politics.

You will recall that last spring, employees of public schools throughout the state stayed away from work for many days. They were trying to pressure Justice and legislators into increasing their pay and doing something to avoid higher premiums and benefits limits through the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

After several controversial days, the Republican-controlled Legislature agreed to 5 percent pay hikes and supplemental funding for the PEIA. Justice set up a task force to look at long-term PEIA solutions.

GOP lawmakers were slow to approve the pay hikes for a very good reason: They weren’t certain the money would be there to cover the 5 percent raises. Recall that last March, the state collected $28.4 million less than had been predicted for the general revenue budget.

We were in danger of not bringing in enough to pay all the bills for the fiscal year that ended June 30. No wonder lawmakers were scared.

But Justice said things would get better. We could afford 5 percent, he assured lawmakers, so they said yes.

What a difference a few months makes. During the first three months of the current fiscal year, the state collected $119 million more than needed to cover the general revenue budget.

Justice now says he’ll recommend another 5 percent raise, plus an additional infusion of $100 million for the PEIA. Republican leaders in the Legislature say they’ll go along with the raise, during the lawmaking session that begins in January.

But some Democrats — and some leaders of the public education employee unions — claim it’s all politics, meant to influence voters in the Nov. 6 election. One called Justice’s action “a politically calculated move.” Well, that played into it. No doubt.

But so did believing the state will have more money than was apparent a few months ago.

Just like you with that used car bargain, legislators in March didn’t think they had the money to do all they would have liked.

They did the prudent thing last spring. Now they see their way clear to do more.

And they’re being criticized for it. That makes no sense. None at all.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.