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Statehouse Beat: Level of anger at PEIA hearing new

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Statehouse Beat: Level of anger at PEIA hearing new
By Phil Kabler, WV Gazette-Mail

 I’ve covered many Public Employees Insurance Agency public hearings over the years, but I’ve never seen this level of anger and frustration among teachers, public employees and retirees over the proposed $120 million of benefits cuts — which doesn’t bode well for the Legislature.

Many of the speakers at the Charleston hearing, particularly those representing teachers’ unions, vented their anger at the Legislature, demanding that lawmakers come up with funding to alleviate the draconian cuts in their health care.(As Senate Finance Chairman Mike Hall, R-Putnam, correctly pointed out, the governor would have to agree to any additional PEIA funding, since he has the power to line-item veto out any increase the Legislature might put in.)However, directing their demands to the Legislature (with the assumption that there will be little or no additional funding for PEIA in the cash-strapped 2016 session) plays to what might be a bigger goal going into the 2016 elections: portraying the current legislative leadership as anti-working-people.

Or, as state School Service Personnel Association Executive Director Joe White succinctly put it: “The current legislative leadership has attacked the working people of West Virginia since Day One.”

Certainly, they have a lot of fodder for that narrative: prevailing wage, right-to-work, charter schools, objections to a biweekly pay system that leadership contends would overpay state employees, the Coal Jobs and Safety Act that rolled back mine safety requirements. (That it failed to have the “huge” impact for the industry that proponents touted suggests market forces, not governmental policies, are driving the downturn in coal.)Add to that another year without pay raises and, potentially, the failure to alleviate severe cuts to PEIA benefits, along with leadership’s admitted adherence to the Chamber of Commerce’s agenda, and the unions and Democratic Party could push hard on the anti-working-class theme.

After Republicans effectively used attacks on Obama’s “war on coal” to grow their numbers in the 2010, 2012, and 2014 elections, will a “war on working people” resonate with Democrats in 2016?