CHARLESTON – Facing a state budget bill that lacks adequate, long-term funding to prevent unaffordable insurance premium increases for state and local workers, members of the Marion County House delegation felt compelled to vote against the measure – a first for each of them.
“This is the first time in my 20-year legislative career that I have to vote ‘no’ on the budget,” Delegate Mike Caputo said. “Rest assured, I don’t like doing that, but it’s the right thing to do.” Delegate Caputo goes on to state, “This new Republican majority has acted in an irresponsible manner by removing money from the Rainy Day Fund and other various accounts throughout state government. Money that is desperately needed to provide services to our citizens and protect our bond rating”.
Delegates Caputo, Tim Manchin and Linda Longstreth joined 35 other House members in voting against the amended Senate Bill 269 today.
The West Virginia Public Employee Insurance Agency’s budget has remained unchanged for the past five years, despite the fact that more than 3,600 new employees have been added to the program while medical and drug costs are increasing by an average of 6 percent per year.
If the House version of the budget passes, only $67 million will be set aside for the state worker and retiree insurance program, requiring premium increases of 12 percent for all plan members and close to $6 million in earned benefit changes for active and retired public employees.
Delegate Manchin was among those who stood and spoke against the measure, noting it contains only one-time funding, taken from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, rather than any new revenue to help shore up the fund.
“We have talked about the need for a full PEIA fix, a long-term fix that avoids premium increases, since this legislative session started. Retirees paying as much as $1,300 in additional yearly premium is not a full fix,” Manchin said. “We need to be prepared -- we need to be looking toward the future now, not just toward the next election.”
Delegate Linda Longstreth, who serves on the House Finance Committee, pointed out that “The 45-cent tobacco tax increase proposed by the Governor in his version of the budget would not have been nearly enough to fund PEIA in the long term, yet House Republicans were opposed to even that amount,” she said. “These state employees and retirees, who have not received raises or cost-of-living increases, are facing what amounts to wage cuts as a result.”
Because the Legislature controls funding for PEIA, if the budget is not changed, the PEIA Finance Board will be forced to enact the premium increases and other benefit cuts, Caputo noted. He said he hopes Governor Tomblin will veto the budget, and require legislators to come back together and work toward a consensus.
“Let cooler heads prevail, and let’s work this out,” Caputo said. “We need to try to find real solutions so we can move West Virginia forward.”