CHARLESTON – Senator Robert Karnes, R-Upshur, Chairman of the Senate Pensions Committee, has two bills before the Committee that would comprehensively reform how pension and retirement benefits of members of the West Virginia Legislature are calculated, which will result in thousands of dollars in annual savings to the state.
Senate Bill 76 would calculate the final average salary of a legislator based on total service, not just on the member’s last three or five years as a public employee. Senate Bill 331 would provide that every person who first enters the Public Employees Retirement System after December 1, 2018, through election, reelection, or appointment to the Legislature, or certain other positions, shall receive one-fourth of a year of service credit for each full year of service in the Legislature or other part-time position.
“From teachers to highway workers to corrections officers, and everyone in between, almost everybody who works for the State of West Virginia is drastically underpaid,” Senator Karnes said. “The only people making plenty of money in West Virginia government are retired legislators working for the Governor so they can enhance a retirement package that will far exceed anything the typical state worker will get.”
Senator Karnes said he believes these special deals are wrong, and hopes to move these bills quickly through the Senate.
“When a relative few get a special deal, it depletes these funds and makes it more difficult for people who have spent a lifetime in an underpaid state job to have a secure retirement,” Senator Karnes said. “The history for many West Virginia state workers is that they were promised a great benefits package in lieu of higher pay. This was a bad deal, and in many ways it was an empty promise.”
In addition to pension and retirement benefits, Senator Karnes said he believes the state has an obligation to keep its promise to its employees in relation to PEIA benefits. The 1 percent raise proposed by Governor Jim Justice in most cases will not be enough to offset the increase in premiums approved in December by the PEIA Finance Board.
“I don’t blame state workers for being upset about the 1 percent raise. I would be too,” Senator Karnes said. “As our economic recovery continues, I will be working to make sure our state workers see additional increases in pay to bring them in line with our surrounding states.”
Upon passage in the Pensions Committee, Senate Bill 76 and Senate Bill 331 both will be referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further action.