CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice sent out a statement to all state employees saying he issued an executive order Wednesday creating a special task force to search for a permanent fix for the Public Employees Insurance Agency.
Justice said the task force would include “educators and nothing but West Virginians.” PEIA has been one of the major sticking points in the strike for school employees, who want a permanent fix.
“The task force is being formed right now and will be appointed by the end of the week to address and explore all avenues that will lead to a permanent fix for PEIA,” Justice said in the statement. “It is important that everyone understand that identifying all of the issues in our health care program and finding a solution takes time. A cure won’t come in 30 minutes, but I can promise you this task force will begin its work immediately.”
The governor mentioned that a freeze had been placed on premiums and benefits in PEIA for 16 months previously, but he said finding a solution needs to be accomplished in a much shorter period of time.
Possibilities to provide a funding source for PEIA include additional severance taxes on oil and gas, gaming revenue from sports betting, tax dollars being generated from the state’s road projects, continued growth in the economy and the possibility of putting the insurance out for competitive bids, Justice said.
Justice said he and union leaders worked diligently to pull off “an incredible package” for state workers and input has been provided by many good legislators.
“Again, it was my promise to the union representatives that in years to come we will continue to revisit pay raises,” Justice said.
Under the deal announced Tuesday by the governor, education-related employees would get a 5 percent raise and all other state employees a 3 percent raise. The deal must be approved by the state House of Delegates and the Senate. Many school employees flocked to the Capitol on Wednesday, however, and said they are not happy with the deal.