WV & PA Need Funds for the Operation of State Government

by Duane Nichols on March 5, 2018

WV teachers at the State Capitol

Subject: There’s a revolution happening in West Virginia

Dear Friends, ……. Date: March 4, 2018

There’s a revolution happening here in West Virginia. I’ve been fighting for working families in West Virginia my entire life.

For the last 10 days, we’ve been standing arm-in-arm with the teachers and support personnel who have been on strike in all 55 counties of our state. They seek only what all workers deserve: dignity and respect. And right now, that means a living wage and stable health care premiums.

We’ve been livestreaming daily massive protests at the state Capitol and doing all we can to support the courageous teachers who’ve been standing up to threats, standing strong for what’s right, and who are changing the political landscape in West Virginia before our eyes.

The situation for our teachers and support personnel in West Virginia is bad.

Our state is ranked 48th in the nation for teacher pay. More than 700 teaching positions remain open, because the pay and benefits are so low. And because the state legislature has failed to fully fund the Public Employees Insurance Agency (PEIA), teachers in West Virginia have seen their premiums and deductibles skyrocket.

West Virginia doesn’t recognize the right of public employees to bargain collectively. When they walked out, these workers opened themselves up to great risk for themselves and their families.

I remember standing on the line with my mom and her colleagues, and my teachers and friends’ parents, back in 1990, the last time West Virginia teachers went on a statewide strike. It was my first lesson in solidarity and standing up for what’s right. It’s why I continue to stand with our teachers and public employees during this current crisis.

Our teachers are joining a fight for the soul of West Virginia that started a century ago, when coal miners fought and died for the right to unionize. Now these striking teachers have captured the attention of the nation, and are serving as an inspiration for public workers and teachers around the country.

This has been a truly been a grassroots-driven movement, and I have no doubt that it will change West Virginia for the better. One of the most powerful outcomes has been how emboldened people have become, realizing that direct action produces results. We are already actively identifying and recruiting new leaders across the state.

After our governor and union leaders announced a hastily made deal last week that was heavy on promises, teachers came back to the Capitol angrier than ever. We want to make sure they have the support they need to keep up the fight for as long as it takes.

In Solidarity, Ryan Frankenberry,
State Director, WV Working Families Party

>> See also the Jacobin article by WVWFP co-chair Cathy Kunkel on how we are working to transform West Virginia politics. And follow the hashtag #55strong.


LETTER: What are we willing to pay?

Letter to the Washington PA Observer-Reporter, March 4, 2018

What are we willing to pay? What are we willing to pay to be safe and prosperous?

In real budget terms, how much are we willing to pay for being safe? How much more in taxes are we willing to pay to improve school safety?

How much more are we willing to pay for better roads?

How much more for better jobs? Would you pay to have an industry bring in new jobs?

Each month as I do my monthly budget, I wonder what these things cost. So I began look at some simple things.

According to studies done in the last few years, citizens never break even, or receive any benefit, on many of these issues. Corporate giveaway projects, like stadiums or attracting industry, fail to bring the benefits touted by elected officials.

This is not new. Let’s take the coal industry, for example. Some studies indicate Pennsylvania citizens never received a fair share from coal being removed and sold to the world. The Marcellus Shale industry looks the same. The question might be, should the commonwealth’s citizens receive some benefits from folks that extract our resources, or our work effort? Yes, a small group of folks do get paid big for this, but is that enough to balance the cost of schools or infrastructure?

As I write a bigger check to pay my school taxes because the state has trimmed its education budget, or ride down the road and break a tire hitting a pothole caused by a 40-ton water truck, I am angry.

We have the second-largest state government in the U.S., and as far as I can see our state motto should be, “Bring money, we will sell anything.”

John Andrews, Jefferson, Greene County, PA

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Huff Post March 5, 2018 at 2:01 pm

How Tax Cuts Led To West Virginia’s Massive Teacher Strike

>>> It turns out it’s tough to give teachers raises when you slash taxes for a decade. < <<

By Dave Jamieson, Huffington Post, March 2, 2018

Striking teachers and other public employees in West Virginia have shut down schools across the state for more than a week, flooding the capitol in Charleston each day to rebuke their lawmakers. The workers are demanding significant raises to their stagnant pay and a clear plan to curb rising premiums in the state employee health care program.

If only someone could have foreseen such a state of affairs.

“They’re saying we can’t afford it,” Ted Boettner, director of the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said of legislators. “Well, we can’t afford it because we’ve done these large tax cuts.”

A decade ago, West Virginia began gradually winding down certain business taxes that could have helped pay for the across-the-board raises that teachers haven’t seen in four years. They also could have helped fill the funding shortfall in the Public Employee Insurance Agency, or PEIA, which many workers list as their top concern.

Instead, lawmakers are staring down budget gaps as they try to resolve a historic strike that has shuttered schools in all 55 counties and galvanized austerity-weary residents.

A tentative deal to end the walkout was hatched earlier this week by Republican Gov. Jim Justice, who promised raises of five percent for school personnel and three percent for state employees. But workers doubted lawmakers would follow through on the deal and vowed to continue their walkout.

Their skepticism was well-founded. Three days later, the state Senate still hasn’t approved Justice’s proposal. Many lawmakers have doubted the governor’s numbers and questioned whether the money is there for the raises.

Although Republicans now control both chambers of the statehouse, the tax cuts that squeezed the state budget were a bipartisan undertaking. Then-Gov. Joe Manchin, a Democrat who’s now one of the state’s two senators in Washington, had urged legislators to pursue the tax cuts in 2006, arguing that West Virginia needed to slash taxes on corporations in order to be competitive with other states.

Over the following years, the state wound down its corporate net income tax rate from 9 to 6.5 percent, and phased out its business franchise tax. It also slashed its tax on groceries from six to three percent, and later did away with it entirely under Manchin’s successor, Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin. Over the same span, the state also created a family tax credit, increased its homestead exemption and got rid of an alternative minimum tax and corporate charter tax, according to the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

All told, those cuts diminished state revenue by more than $425 million each year, the center estimates.

>>> They’re saying we can’t afford it. Well, we can’t afford it because we’ve done these large tax cuts. Ted Boettner, West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy < <<

As the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported in 2016, Manchin later questioned the wisdom of the tax cuts he’d championed once the state was facing a budget hole of $353 million. “I don’t know if you say they’re the right or wrong move, but you’ve got to be competitive,” Manchin told the paper. “I couldn’t be at 9 percent corporate tax and expect corporations to stay here if they didn’t have to.”

Much like the Republican leaders who recently fast-tracked federal tax cuts through Congress, West Virginia leaders sought their cuts at a time when their economy was doing relatively well, with strong coal prices. But coal operators got battered by the shale boom and cheap natural gas, driving down demand for coal production. The industry’s travails have closed mines and crimped tax revenue.

In the meantime, teachers and other public employees have been asked to tighten their belts. While some teachers have received pay increases based upon length of tenure, the state has not boosted the overall payscale since 2014. West Virginia now ranks 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia in teacher pay, according to the National Education Association. The average teacher pay in the state is $45,622, though many educators interviewed over the past week said they earn well below that amount.

One teacher, Rebecca Diamond, told HuffPost that she has 19 years on the job and earns just $39,000. She has to work weekend shifts handling a register at Hardee’s for $8.75 an hour in order to support her family. The lack of raises combined with rising health care costs has meant that some workers have watched their take-home pay go down in recent years. Employees have insisted that the state come up with a long-term plan to curb PEIA premium hikes.

As of Friday, teachers across the state were still on picket lines and protesting at the state capitol. County by county, they will determine if schools remain closed into next week. So far, not a single one of the state’s 55 counties has reopened its schools ― a clear sign of the strike’s backbone and the pent-up frustration of workers.

“If they would have had the revenue from tax cuts and invested in teachers, this would be a different story,” said Boettner.



Kate Yoder March 6, 2018 at 9:07 pm

Striking teachers in West Virginia call for raising taxes on coal and gas.

From Kate Yoder, The Grist, March 5, 2018

The 48th lowest-earning teachers in the country are eight days into a strike that demands a 5 percent pay raise. They’re frustrated by rising health care costs and, y’know, working at Hardee’s on the weekends to make ends meet.

And some are arguing that the state’s fossil fuel industry should chip in to its tight education budget. During a walkout last week, strikers were heard yelling “severance tax” and “tax our gas!”

Raising state severance taxes on coal and natural gas from the current rate of 5 percent to 7.5 percent would generate an extra $93 million in revenue in 2019, an analysis from the West Virginia Center on Budget & Policy shows.

The severance tax hike has the support of West Virginia governor Jim Justice, a Republican and former coal tycoon — of course, as it applies to natural gas. However, West Virginia Senate Republicans were not as enthused. Last week, they killed a measure that would have used natural gas severance tax revenue to help cover teachers’ insurance.

“[O]ur state is in poverty and will continue to be in poverty because these industries come in and tell our representatives how things are going to go,” Kristina Gore, a fifth grade social studies teacher, told The New Republic.



Annette Palutis April 19, 2018 at 12:30 am

Fair school funding via severance tax on natural gas

To the Editor, Scranton Times-Tribune, April 18, 2018

I have great concern about the attention that has been drawn to Senate Bill 76. It proposes to do away with property taxes devoted to public education.

The irony is that the same state Legislature has caused local property taxes to rise. If the state paid its fair share of education expenses then local taxes would be less costly. According to the Pennsylvania Constitution, the state must provide a thorough and efficient education for the children of the state.

This would translate to at least 50 percent of the cost. The state currently provides about 34 percent of the cost, forcing school districts to raise local taxes. The federal government should provide 25 percent. Then the local share would be far less. The main burden is on the state. This legislation is less than honest because the legislators themselves have caused the problem.

If we do away with property taxes, how could we trust the Legislature to provide the necessary funds even if lawmakers put another tax in its place?

States that do not have property taxes dedicated to education are failing their students, as we have been reading about recently. A wise man taught me that money goes away but property does not.

Rather than pushing SB 76, let us put pressure on members of the Legislature to do their fair share. They could do this by enacting a Marcellus Shale severance tax. The dirty little secret of public education is that everybody who runs for public office says how important it is but nobody wants to pay for it. Where would we be in this world of high technology without educated people?


Editor’s note: The writer is a retired Scranton teacher and a former president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association


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