Gov. Joe Manchin has warned lawmakers that they risk huge budget deficits by mid-2009 if they attempt more generous pay raises than what he has proposed for teachers and other public workers.

But Manchin’s budget estimates show that his own pay hike package would push general revenue spending into the red, though by a far smaller amount and not until 2010.

Manchin’s office on Thursday released figures, first shown to legislators last week, gauging the financial impact of the session’s various competing pay raise proposals. He also shared his numbers during a Thursday meeting with groups advocating these alternative measures, spokeswoman Lara Ramsburg said.

For educators, the governor wants a 2.5 percent salary hike plus additional funding to ensure all teachers are paid at least $30,000 a year. He has also proposed a $1,000 raise for corrections employees, and a one-time payment of between $600 and $1,200 to school service personnel and state workers.

Teachers’ groups have since rallied for higher raises, with corrections officers expected to follow suit next week. Public workers, meanwhile, seek a permanent pay increase.

Manchin’s figures suggest that a 6 percent hike for teachers, as sought by the West Virginia Education Association, and a 2.5 percent raise for state workers would plunge the state into a $141 million budget deficit during the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2008.

Giving everyone a 6 percent raise would swell that deficit to $216 million, the figures estimate.

“It will be much more difficult to balance the budget in 2009 if we adopt any of those proposals,” Revenue Secretary Rob Alsop said Thursday. “A $216 million deficit would not be easy to overcome next year.”

Judy Hale, president of the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia, said her group would continue to push for higher raises.

“That’s just simply not enough,” Hale said of the governor’s proposal. “It’s going to do very little to make us competitive.”

Hale’s group cites national figures ranking West Virginia 41st for teacher pay. The numbers released Thursday by Manchin’s office suggest that, once adjusted for the cost of living, the state’s teacher salaries rank 26th.

Under Manchin’s proposal, the administration predicts a $17 million surplus for fiscal year 2009. But the following fiscal year would end in June 2010 with a $9.1 million deficit under the governor’s budget projections. The state constitution forbids any deficit spending.

Alsop said the governor’s plan gives the state more time to cut costs, improve the state’s economy and take other steps to ensure revenue covers expenses. Alsop also argued that the state needs that time to adjust to the competition from Pennsylvania, and perhaps other neighboring states, to its lottery program. The Keystone State has legalized slot machines, threatening video lottery revenue for at least two of West Virginia’s four racetracks.

Manchin’s proposed sale of bonds, backed by tobacco settlement payments, to secure at least $700 million in upfront cash could also help avoid deficits, Alsop said.

“We do have difficult times ahead,” Alsop said. “We need to continue to manage responsibly.”

Recommended for you