West Virginians are facing many challenges as the Legislature convenes for the 2016 Session. The Democratic Caucus of the House of Delegates met this morning at the Capitol to announce their priorities for the upcoming session. Democrats pledge to take steps to protect working West Virginians and their families and will not support any business tax cuts until we fund PEIA, protect workers’ wages, restore school funding and fix potholes.
The House Democratic Caucus will work with Governor Tomblin and Republican legislative leadership in a bipartisan manner to find a complete fix to PEIA. If there is no plan presented that will fully restore PEIA benefits, the Caucus plans to introduce legislation that will fully fund PEIA through an increase in the tobacco tax, which also contributes to healthier West Virginians. “Our Democratic Caucus will not support any half measures,” stated Minority Leader Tim Miley (D-Harrison). “Any increase in premiums, deductibles, copays or reduction to benefits are essentially a pay cut to our state’s teachers, public employees and retirees,” he continued.
The Democratic proposal would include a tax increase for all tobacco products, including e-cigarettes. Increased revenues from these taxes would fully fund PEIA and provide additional monies for substance abuse treatment and smoking cessation programs in West Virginia. “The funding crisis with PEIA provides the Legislature with a unique opportunity to provide our active and retired teachers and public workers health insurance program with a reliable and predictable funding steam while also decreasing overall healthcare cost and improving health for all West Virginians by reducing tobacco use,” Delegate Mick Bates (D-Raleigh) stated.
The second priority of the House Democratic Caucus is to protect the wages of hardworking West Virginians. Republican leadership will again propose legislation as part of their legislative platform that would cut workers’ wages. Democrats stand united against any cuts to wages of working West Virginians. “Any effort to reduce or eliminate good construction wages is nothing but an effort to cut wages for hardworking West Virginians for the benefit of big business,” Delegate Jeff Eldridge (D-Lincoln) stated. “So called right-to-work legislation does the same thing,” he added.
The House Democratic Caucus also pledges to stand united against cuts to our state’s higher education system and our state’s public schools. House Democrats also stand in opposition to charter school legislation. “The Democratic Caucus believes that teachers know what is best for our school system- not the politicians and corporate interests who form charter schools,” Leader Miley stated.
“Charter schools would take money away from our already underfunded public school systems. My home county of Fayette knows all too well the effects that this can have on a school system, its infrastructure and its morale,” Delegate David Perry (D-Fayette) stated. Delegate Perry is a retired educator and serves as Minority Chair of the House Committee on Education. “Charter schools eliminate the rights of teachers, reduce teacher salaries, abuse state and local taxpayer dollars and show no evidence of student achievement,” Perry added.
The final plank of the House Democratic platform for the 2016 Legislative Session is a stance against corporate giveaways and corporate tax cuts. Democrats stand united against any taking of private property by rich, out-of-state corporations. “The Democratic Party is the party of property rights,” stated Delegate Isaac Sponaugle (D-Pendleton). “We do not support forced pooling, otherwise known as private eminent domain, which takes property from working families and forcefully transfers it to out-of-state corporations,” he added.
The policies of the Republican led Legislature are making it harder for working people in West Virginia. Republican leaders are pushing business tax cuts and business benefits and paying for these corporate benefits with working people’s wages.
Democrats stand united in promising to protect working families against cuts to PEIA, wage cuts, education cuts and against corporate giveaways. “Our job as legislators is to protect and support working West Virginians and their families,” the Minority Leader urged. “Democrats in the House of Delegates will stand by that promise throughout the upcoming legislative session,” he pledged.