charleston — In a Friday evening floor session, Senate President Mitch Carmichael said he believes public employees should make more money, but the state cannot afford to do more at this time.
The Senate took up a few measures earlier Friday morning before abruptly recessing until 6 p.m. After the evening session ended, Carmichael addressed criticism over the earlier recess. He said it had nothing to do with the teacher pay issue or the teachers rallying at the Capitol.
“I don’t understand the criticisms,” Carmichael said. “We are conducting the business of the Senate. We had committee meetings scheduled and we anticipated a long session. We wanted to get committee work done.”
Some had accused leadership of recessing early and returning late to wait for those rallying at the Capitol to leave the building. Carmichael said this was not his intention.
“They were all here this evening as well,” Carmichael said.
“And frankly, there was some acrimony on the floor developing,” Carmichael said referencing tensions among a few senators about a consumer lending bill. “I felt it was better to take a recess and get committee work accomplished and then come back in an expedient manner.”
Carmichael also discussed a bill passed by the House to dedicate $29 million from the Rainy Day Fund to PEIA and the pay raise bill which is currently pending before the Senate Committee on Rules.
“We’ve done a lot,” Carmichael said, mentioning those two measures. “We know they will get a pay raise. I would say we have done a lot. For those who are contemplating a walkout or strike and to shut the doors of our schools because it’s not enough when it’s all the poorest people in America can afford, it’s unfortunate.”
Before the Senate reconvened to take up new bills and those up for amendment, teachers packed into the galleries chanting, “This is our house!” and “Guess what? We’re back.” Many could be heard chanting outside the chamber as the Senate conducted business.
Sen. Robert Plymale, D-Wayne, addressed the body at the end of the floor session, saying he felt many members should be ashamed of themselves.
“Today was the worst civility I’ve ever seen on this floor in 26 years,” Plymale said. “We should all be ashamed of ourselves to allow this to happen. Yes, we are elected as Republicans and Democrats but we’re West Virginians.”
Sen. Douglas Facemire, D-Braxton, called members to action. He again suggested increasing severance tax on natural gas to address PEIA and teacher pay increases.
“What we have to have is the guts to fix this problem,” he said. “This is the third time I’ve stood on this floor and said we can fix this problem with zero burden on our taxpayers. Zero burden. All we have to do is increase severance tax on natural gas.
“We don’t need a strike,” Facemire later said. “We need guts. We need guts to take care of these folks. If we don’t, then God help us.”
Carmichael also stepped down from the podium to address the chamber.
“We are just beginning to emerge from years of economic decline,” Carmichael said. “We have all tried — whoever and whatever party has tried to lift this state out of poverty. And we are just beginning to turn the corner.”
Carmichael said he felt public employees and teachers should make more money and that he is committed to do more.
“But we are just beginning to climb out of this recession,” he said, talking of other initiatives that would spur economic growth, including a bill that would incentivize community college attendance. “We want to do more but we have to get the economy stabilized and moving in the right direction.”
Addressing the pay raise bill, Carmichael said, “What I’m saying is, it’s unprecedented to lock in a pay raise for the outyears. If we could do more, we will do more. I’m sure this probably doesn’t relieve anxiety for many in this state, but what I would say to our students, parents and the education community is we’re at a crossroads in our state. We are coming to this point where we are beginning to emerge from poor economic conditions. Rather than begin with a celebration of recommitment to a focus of changing our state, we are confronted with a potential walkout or strike. That’s not where we need to be.”
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