Last week, Republicans in the West Virginia Senate shot down a proposed 3 percent pay raise for teachers. As teachers who had shut down their schools to be there glared down from the chamber’s galleries, GOP lawmakers accused Democrats of grandstanding for even suggesting such a hefty raise.
Their reasoning, they said, was simple: The state doesn’t have the money for a 3 percent increase and is struggling to find money for just a 1 percent increase — and teachers should just be happy with those crumbs.
“I can’t believe people are insulted by something we’re trying so hard to do,” said Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley.
“We’d love to give more, but you just can’t,” said Sen. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne.
“It’s as much as we can do,” said Sen. Robert Karnes, R-Upshur. “We’d all like to do more, but this is all we have.”
Assuming that’s correct, what could these Republicans and their colleagues have done differently to make sure there was enough money to give teachers a decent raise?
Hmm. Maybe they should have listened to all the people who told them not to cut taxes in various ways over the past several years because it wouldn’t leave enough money in the state budget to do things like, you know, pay teachers.
In recent years, legislators have repealed the business franchise tax and the sales tax on food, and reduced the corporate net tax rate. You can argue about the individual merits of each of those moves, but the fact is, they blew a $400 million hole in the state budget.
That’s why there’s no money for teacher raises.
Are those tax cuts working? Ask, and you get nonsense from people like Sen. Ed Gaunch, R-Kanawha, before this year’s legislative session: “It’s hard to say [cutting taxes] didn’t work, because things might be worse if we hadn’t.”
Cutting taxes has become an article of faith for Republicans. They don’t need any kind of evidence that it works, and they ignore evidence that it doesn’t.
And they’re still going. Last year, legislators tried to eliminate the personal income tax and increase the sales tax to make up for it. That would have been a terrible idea in any case, as it would have moved the tax burden from richer West Virginians to poorer ones. Thankfully, the state’s residents dodged that bullet.
This year, the big push is to repeal the business inventory tax, which largely goes to fund county school systems. Legislative leaders, Gov. Jim Justice and state Commerce Secretary Woody Thrasher think getting rid of that tax is a great idea, and are happy to tell you so. Ask them how they’ll fund West Virginia schools in its absence, and they get noticeably quieter.
A bunch of West Virginia legislators — including Karnes, Maynard and Gaunch — are running for re-election this year. The voters in their districts should ask them why the policies they’ve supported in the Legislature have led to a state treasury so bare that they can’t give teachers a long-overdue raise.