West Virginia Teachers Demanded a Raise. Republicans Rejected Tax Hikes to Fund It

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Posted by Tyler Tate on Friday, March 16th, 2018, 4:07 PM PERMALINK

Recently, Republicans in the West Virginia state legislature were able to end a nine day, statewide public school teachers strike by passing a 5% pay increase for teachers. The illegal strike, precipitated by complaints of comparatively low wages, was ended by a $110 million pay increase accomplished without raising taxes. Lawmakers instead agreed to cut spending by $110 million, with most of the money likely to be cut from tourism promotion and Department of Commerce funds.

Striking West Virginia teachers argued they were receiving the fourth lowest average wages in the country for teachers, ranking 48/51 (including Washington, D.C.). However, this statistic does not take pension contributions or other benefits into account. Factoring these benefits in, West Virginia ranks 32/51 in the country for work compensation.

This ranking, however, does not take cost of living into account. West Virginia pay with benefits would likely rank even better given West Virginia has a relatively low cost of living.

The strike destroyed the modern the argument that tax increases are necessary to sufficiently fund education. Rather, lawmakers dedicated to cutting wasteful spending and streamlining government can fund education.

The strike also demonstrates that tax cuts do not inevitably lead to cuts in education spending. While increasing total teacher pay by $110 million, Governor Jim Justice (R) maintained a push for a pro-growth $420 million tax cut designed to bring manufacturing investment and jobs to West Virginia. The bill would have phased out the business tangible personal property tax on manufacturing equipment, with West Virginia only one of fourteen states that levies the tax.

Proponents of teacher raises nationally will try to point to tax reform as a barrier for more significant investments in education. Nationally, however, that narrative falls flat. States like West Virginia, Florida, and Wisconsin have significantly increased education spending while also working to simplify and reduce their tax codes and burdens.

Equally important to these efforts is electing politicians with the fortitude to make tough decisions on which priorities to fund, and stand up to special spending interests to protect taxpayers against the demands for tax hikes at the state level.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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