Government, The Braxton Democrat

Legislative Update… By Lori Dittman WV House of Delegates 63rd District

Members of the West Virginia House of Delegates met for another Saturday session and in one day, secured the long-term stability and viability of the Public Employees Insurance Agency, passed a balanced budget, approved pay raises for state employees and finalized the largest tax cut in 37 years.
Senate Bill 268, which would stabilize PEIA through a variety of adjustments, passed the House after nearly three hours of discussion by 20 Delegates. It returns to the Senate because it was amended by the House.
This bill was one I spent a great deal of time reading and researching options and fiscal information. As a teacher employed by the State, PEIA is my personal insurance. As a legislator, I must carefully weigh financial impacts on citizens and the State budget. I heard from PEIA members and the general public about this bill. So many shared that their insurance premiums, out-of-pocket maximums, and deductibles had risen multiple times in the last decade.
The financial situation for PEIA has deteriorated to a point that it is unsustainable in its current state. If we did not act now, it will cost the taxpayers in West Virginia more, jeopardizes future solvency of PEIA, and will risk provider availability for plan members as the number of medical providers who refuse to accept PEIA continues to rise.
In the past, issues at PEIA have been addressed with temporary measures and patches. As a result, PEIA is at a crisis, and we must act now. Even one more year without action will exponentially worsen the situation.
Taxpayer bailouts for PEIA over the years have ranged from $10 million in 2017 to $52 million in 2023. If we do nothing right now, we will need to put $154 million into the plan for 2024 with a projected jump to $422.8 million in 2027.
It has been 11 years since the Legislature has allowed a premium increase and we are acutely aware that these adjustments are painful. What I found in research was PEIA, even with a premium increase, is still a great benefit. PEIA members will still pay lower premiums, lower deductibles, and lower out-of-pocket maximums compared to private insurance options. Spouses may still be included in PEIA as well, something not widely available to those outside PEIA.
While some feel the PEIA crisis should be addressed with the current budget surplus, that would be another patch and not address the issue for the long-term. We have no guarantee of budget surpluses in the future and no way to determine if emergency needs may arise that would have financial impacts. This was a hard vote, but in the end, I feel I made a balanced decision based on the needs of all West Virginians.
SB268 would require a minimum 110 percent reimbursement of the Medicare rate for all providers. It would maintain the funding breakdown of 80 percent for the employer and 20 percent for the employee. The bill would increase participants’ premium rates, which have remained relatively unchanged for the past 11 years, by roughly 25%. No coverage would change, including for out-of-state services, and no retirees would be affected. Participants’ spouses who have insurance available through their own employers would be required to utilize it or may keep their PEIA coverage by paying the actuarial rate.
Under this measure, savings would be achieved through premium offsets, private insurance spousal policies as well as federal and special revenue dollars made available by rerouting state funding. It would require all PEIA Finance Board members to carry the fiduciary responsibility to protect the plan and would require PEIA to conduct an independent actuarial study of the financial solvency of the plan.
Members next approved House Bill 2024, the budget bill. The bill cut the governor’s proposed budget by about $250 million to account for other priorities the House has approved through other bills so far this session.
The House budget adds $800,000 for after-school programs, $77 million in support for families as directed through House Bill 2002 and $842 million to develop the foster care portal as set forth in House Bill 2538.
Additional funds were added in the House budget for the Community and Technical College System and the Learn and Earn program established through House Bill 3417, the newly created Woody Williams State Military Funeral Honor Guard fund and the uniform allowance for members of the National Guard.
The House unanimously approved an amended Senate Bill 423, which would increase the annual salaries of members of the West Virginia State Police, and public-school teachers by $2,300 as well as $230 or $115 raises for public school service personnel, based on the hours established in their contracts. The pay raises would become effective July 1.
Members of the House approved House Bill 2526, agreeing with the Senate’s proposals to reduce the personal income tax. HB2526 represents a $754 million cut in taxes – the largest in the state’s history.
Personal income tax rates would be cut by 21.25% across all six tax brackets, retroactive to Jan. 1, 2023. Personal income tax reductions would be limited to no more than 10% at any given time, but a formula would activate additional tax cuts when surplus allows.
Taxpayers would receive a 100% tax credit on their vehicles when they pay personal property taxes and small businesses would be able to claim a 50% refundable tax credit against personal income taxes or the taxes paid on machinery, equipment, and inventory. Disabled military service veterans would receive a refundable tax credit against their personal income taxes for real property taxes paid on their homes. HB2526 now goes to the governor for action.
House Bill 3153 Emergency Medical Services Equipment and Training Fund passed the House and is now in the Senate. The bill establishes a grant program for equipment and training of emergency medical service providers and personnel. I was pleased to have Randy James in the gallery when the bill was passed.
A total of 81 bills have completed legislative action as of March 4, and 54 of those have been House bills. The 60-day, regular legislative session ends at midnight March 11.
I had the pleasure of a visit from longtime friend and former Gassaway business owner John Gawthrop and it was my honor to recognize him in the House gallery.
A citation was read recognizing Glenville State University’s 151 year history providing higher education opportunities. Several of my former students currently attending GSU were in attendance.
I was also visited by the Braxton County Middle School students for Youth in Government, a program I have long enjoyed.
I look forward to hearing from constituents in the 63rd District and visiting with you throughout the year. Please contact me at 304-701-8600, and [email protected].
“There is no decision we can make that doesn’t come with some sort of balance or sacrifice.” (Simon Sinek)