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Justice speaks at Charleston education summit

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Justice speaks at Charleston education summit
By MetroNews Staff

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice began his remarks Wednesday at the West Virginia South Summit for Educational Excellence by reminding attendees about his first State of the State address after taking office in 2017.

“I really, truly mean what I said from the very first State of the State when I said that what we should do is make education our centerpiece,” he said.

Justice spent around 20 minutes speaking about the progress made since January 2017 before taking part in a 40-minute question-and-answer segment.

“Our state was bankrupt, guys,” the governor said of his first year in office. “Absolutely, teetotaling bankrupt. Nowhere to turn. Rainy day fund already drained to a level where our bonds were being derated. Nowhere to turn.”

Justice said he wanted to pass a 2-percent teacher pay raise last year in an effort to boost the state’s attractability, but the West Virginia Legislature did not approve the pay increase.

Justice, who went on a statewide education listening tour earlier this year, said the common concerns among teachers, service personnel and administrators are a lack of appreciation and frustration about how education is treated.

“You were taken for granted. You had absolutely been pushed down and wondering what was going to be next to push me down further,” he said. “When we passed the budget (in 2017), I wouldn’t sign it. All I could possibly do is shut the government down or let it go on the way it was. I couldn’t put my name on it.”

During this year’s legislative session, a 5-percent pay raise was approved as a result of the statewide teacher’s strike.

Justice pointed to the state’s increased revenue numbers as a sign West Virginia is improving. With raises for education staff approved, he said the next step will be fixing Public Employees Insurance Agency PACKAGES.

“I can promise you from Jim Justice — from Jim Justice — that PEIA is going to be fixed. And it’s going to be fixed soon to where you can sleep easy over the fact that you’re not locked into a $40,000 salary and all of a sudden your health care costs are running out of kilter and what am I going to do,” he said.

“It may very well be that maybe the resolution of a PEIA may come from the Republican side rather than the Democrat side,” he added. “If it just comes from a West Virginia side, that’s all it means to me.”

The PEIA Task Force’s Public Outreach Subcommittee is expected to release a report next week detailing its set of hearings on ways to improve the insurance program.