CHARLESTON – House Majority Whip Mike Caputo today condemned the Public Employee Insurance Agency Finance Board’s decision to eliminate retiree health benefits for future state and public employee hires.
“This decision will send the message to our young people that we don’t care whether or not they stay in West Virginia and work,” Caputo, D-Marion, said. “We are trying to get professionals to come home to West Virginia and to keep our graduating young adults. This is not the time to be taking away retirement benefits.”
After the Finance Board issued its initial plan to cancel the benefit, hastily adopted during an emergency meeting in May, Delegate Caputo said he was slightly relieved when the board put that plan on hold in order to conduct public hearings around the state.
“I noted previously that the way in which the board reached its initial decision gave the appearance that it was attempting to circumvent teacher representatives and others who surely would be opposed to such a change,” Caputo said. “I can’t believe that after listening to the opinions and concerns of the public – heard only thanks to the persistence of the West Virginia Troopers Association, the West Virginia-American Federation of Teachers and School Service Personnel and many other state employees and citizens – that this board would still vote this way.”
It has been widely reported that there was a considerable turnout at each of the six public hearings, and there were not reports of anyone speaking in favor of the cancellation of the retiree health benefits.
In addition, AFT-WV President Judy Hale has said that if the benefit cut is approved, her organization will take legal action against the board – for both the procedure used and to question the board’s authority to make such a policy decision.
“If the board had just done the right thing for our public employees, the Public Employee Insurance Agency Finance Board could have saved the taxpayers the expense of a legal challenge,” Caputo observed. “This is extremely disappointing.
“I believe the board’s action will shut down the West Virginia’s ability to recruit quality people to serve as state police officers, teachers, school service personnel, corrections officers, social workers and in all other public positions, each of which play a significant role in the day-to-day operations of the state. That tells me that the majority of the PEIA Finance Board members are out of touch with the needs of this state.”
Delegate Caputo added that he appreciates Finance Board members Joshua Sword and Elaine Harris for voting against the measure.