Charleston, WV – Last week, West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael tried to take credit for the public employee pay raises he was a major obstacles to. Another state senator – one that backed the pay increases teachers went on strike to win – called that “laughable.”
Last Wednesday, Carmichael joined Hoppy Kercheval on the radio show Talkline, which was broadcast from the Greenbriar. The Senate President was one of several state politicians who played in an amateur round during the golf tournament there, with Governor Jim Justice picking up his entry fee
While on MetroNews, Carmichael gave Republicans credit for the state’s growing economy. Even more boldly, he claimed responsibility for the five percent pay increase that began showing up in public employees paychecks starting this month.
“I'm not trying to pat myself on the back or anything,” said Carmichael. “But if we had opposed that pay raise, it wouldn't have happened.”
Senator Corey Palumbo of Charleston called it “laughable for Republican senate leaders to now take credit as if they were leading the charge to provide these pay raises.” He says in fact it was obvious “just with how poorly the Republican leadership handled the whole situation on the Senate side.”
When the legislative session started, Republicans in the Senate were resistant to raising public employ pay. Many were more focused on the possibility of a $140 million dollar business and corporate tax cut.
An early pay raise proposal – Senate Bill 267 – would have increased teacher pay by two percent in the first year and one percent in each of the next three years. Public school employees were already grumbling that was too small – one told a reporter it was “an insult.” But SB 267 passed the House. When that version of it got back to the Senate, Carmichael argued that the state couldn’t afford it, saw it amended to cut off the one percent raise in the fifth year.
After the strike started, Palumbo says “the House fairly quickly passed the 4 percent increase. And then the Senate sat on it for days, not doing anything with it.”
With the schools closed Palumbo says “there was a sense of urgency out in the state among teachers and among parents of students, to get the issue resolved. But there seemed to be no sense of urgency among the Senate leadership to get it resolved.”
In fact, it looked like Carmichael and other Republican Senators had to be forced kicking and screaming to go along with the raises that re-opened the classrooms. Striking teachers and school service personnel demonstrating at the capitol even targeted Carmichael himself – with some carrying signs that said “Mitch Better Have My Money,” and others chanting (in a parody of a pop song) “Yo, Mitch – Get Out The Way. Get Out The Way Mitch, Get Out The Way.”
House Bill 4145 was the legislation that finally raised public employee pay by the five percent Carmichael now points to proudly as “the largest pay raise in state history.” But roll call votes show that he and the committee chairs he appointed repeatedly trying to stop, slow or reduce it.
When Kercheval pushed back on the Senate president’s claim during the interview, Carmichael insisted it was “not true at all” that GOP Senate leaders opposed the raise, and said the strike “made no difference.”
“We were 100 percent on board with as much pay raise as we could do,” said Carmichael – arguing that the only thing holding them back was the tight budget.
Palumbo points out that this is the first public employee pay increase to pass the legislature since the Republicans took over. “It's been a four year period. And if you look back over the last 25, 30 years there's been no three year period if I remember right where teachers of public employees have not received a raise.”
Dan Heyman has been covering West Virginia politics and policy for more than two decades. He likes dogs but has trouble keeping kudzu from swallowing everything he owns. For more of Dan's WV Strong content, click here.