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As the WV Public Employee Insurance Agency Finance Board prepares to take up necessary, drastic benefit cuts in the face of an unresolved state budget, the West Virginia AFL-CIO urges public employees and others who rely on that insurance plan not to be distracted by the Republican legislative leadership’s attempts to blame the Governor’s administration for this crisis.

“From the outset of the legislative session, Governor Tomblin had a plan to ensure that PEIA is funded in the coming fiscal year, and Democrat legislators consistently advocated raising sufficient revenue to address the plan’s long-term liability,” WV AFL-CIO President Kenny Perdue said. “Meanwhile, throughout the session the House and Senate Republican leadership said over and over again they had a plan in place, only to come up with budgets that were miles apart – the House only proposed using one-time savings to address the current fiscal year, and the Senate included assumed tax increases the House had already defeated.

“Now the legislative leadership has put out a statement attempting to lay blame on the Governor and Democrats. It would be laughable if this weren’t such a serious matter for the more than 230,000 plan participates who will be affected by this $120 million cut.”

Fred Albert, a teacher for the past 25 years and local president of AFT-Kanawha, said the benefit cuts and out-of-pocket increases amount to a pay cut for public employees and retirees.

“These draconian cuts are serious,” he said. “I’m tired of this being used as a political football.

“This did not happen overnight. Fair warning was given to the Legislative leadership last year and at the beginning of this session. Now they have to come back in a special session, which costs the taxpayers in excess of $30,000 a day. This could have been resolved, and should have been resolved, during the regular session, but it was not.”

WV AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Josh Sword, also a member of the PEIA Finance Board, said this situation has been “a never-ending nightmare” for public employees who haven’t had a raise in years and retirees who’ve never had an increase in their pensions but who are now looking at the prospect of an increase of $4,000 to $5,000 in out-of-pocket expenses annually.

“It’s a sad day for West Virginians when the Finance Board, which called for legislative action on this months ago, is forced to reconsider these devastating cuts,” he said.

Sword noted the irony of Republican majority having enough votes to pass a resolution to trigger a constitutional convention calling on Congress to pass a balanced budget, yet not being close to balancing their own state budget.

“At the end of the session, when the Republican leadership should have been concentrating on PEIA and the budget, they spent countless hours on issues like a constitutional convention and polarizing social-issue legislation,” Sword said. “It’s a slap in the face to these hard-working men and women who are struggling to get by.”