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Delegate offers help to find PEIA funds in budget

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Delegate offers help to find PEIA funds in budget
By Pamela Pritt REGISTER-HERALD REPORTER

As state employees, including teachers and other school personnel, are confronted by proposed $120 million cuts to PEIA benefits in the next fiscal year, Raleigh County Delegate Ricky Moye has offered to help Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin find money to “fully fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency.”

Moye, a school bus driver, is offering to take on a pretty big task. 

The state is facing a $250 million budget deficit, the third consecutive fiscal year that West Virginia has found itself in budget crisis mode. While deficits in the past two years could be associated with tax cuts enacted in 2009 — some of which were only recently fully implemented — this last decline is due almost entirely to rapidly dwindling coal severance tax revenue. 

That puts PEIA, which has not had a premium increase for employees since 2010-11, in a bind, as the likelihood of a state bailout of the program is fiscally unlikely.

However, Moye, a Democrat, said he believes the issue is so important to public employees that the effort is worth it. 

“All the legislators need to get together and work out a solution to this,” Moye said. The delegate said he fears the state will have difficulty finding teachers who want to work in West Virginia. “We have to find a solution to it,” he said. 

Moye would not disclose his particular ideas for finding the revenue to bolster PEIA, but did say that he doesn’t believe the state is “in a financial position right now to cut taxes.”

A 14-member joint committee has been studying tax reform since April. Nearly all the presenters have advocated cutting business taxes in order to attract new companies to the state. The committee has not yet drafted legislation pertaining to tax reform. 

Moye said that raising the cigarette tax might be an option, but state agencies have already been cut and he doesn’t see many places to cut any more. 

Tomblin enacted two consecutive 7.5 percent cuts to state agencies and this year announced an additional 4 percent cut, including a 1 percent cut to public education. 

“All of our state agencies have cut and cut,” Moye said. “The budget gets down to what the people want. If they want cuts, I’m open to suggestions. At the end of the day, it’s hard to get a consensus on what you should do.”

Chris Stadelman, Tomblin’s communications director said the governor “understands these reductions are difficult.”

“Gov. Tomblin remains committed to ensuring the essential services on which so many of our most vulnerable residents rely while meeting our financial obligations and will consider suggestions to ease the reductions PEIA is making to stay within its budget,” Stadelman said. 

Stadelman pointed out that while some reductions in PEIA benefits are likely, premiums are not increasing, and state employees are not alone in dealing with health care costs.

“A number of private sector businesses are also struggling with the rising cost of health care,” he said.