West Virginia’s governor signs budget bill and raises, insurance changes bills

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice signed a $4.87 billion budget bill Friday for the next fiscal year along with bills giving pay raises to public employees and making changes to their insurance program.

West Virginia Governor Jim Justice
West Virginia Governor Jim Justice [Jesse Wright | WVPB]
The relatively flat budget compared with past years includes 34 items shifted from the state’s record surplus.

“We have really looked after the store,” Justice said at the signing ceremony.

Among the funding is $282 million in maintenance for correctional facilities and public colleges and universities, $125 million toward consolidating the state’s testing laboratories, $67 million for tourism, $20 million to expand the state’s nursing workforce and $10 million for an emergency food bank fund.

The ceremony came 10 days after the Republican governor signed a bill returning more than $750 million to state residents, including a 21.25% reduction in the personal income tax. The GOP-supermajority Legislature also passed a credit on personal property taxes that residents pay annually on vehicles, while small businesses will get a tax break and disabled veterans will receive property tax credits.

The amount being returned is more than two-thirds of the $1.1 billion surplus.

Advocates have said the budget, which is about $300 million less than the 2019 state budget after adjusting for inflation, doesn’t go far enough to support the most vulnerable and marginalized residents in one of the nation’s poorest states.

“Nothing this session was deemed as important as income tax cuts,” Kelly Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said this week on Twitter. “Not addressing vacancies in corrections that are impacting safety; not helping child care centers; not making higher education more affordable; not smoking cessation or health funding. All fell by the wayside.”

Also Friday, Justice signed $2,300 pay raises effective July 1 for public school teachers, school service personnel and state police, whose salaries are set in state code. The two-term governor noted it’s the fourth pay raise for state employees under his administration.

Another bill signed by Justice addresses changes in the Public Employees Insurance Agency, the health insurance provider for government employees and their families. The agency has been faced with rising overall costs in recent years. The bill raises employee premiums, including for spouses, raises Medicare reimbursement rates to hospitals and puts the cost split at 80% for employers and 20% for workers.