CHARLESTON - Despite the chants, yips and boos outside the chamber doors, Senate President Mitch Carmichael only had to call the room to order once after the West Virginia teachers who filled the Senate gallery applauded Sen. Richard Ojeda's plan to give them a bigger raise.
"Now let's work together and do something that will finally make these people up in the rafters happy," Ojeda said following the Senate passing a bill that would give some state workers, including teachers, a 1 percent raise for each of the next five years.
The pay raise bill passed 33-0 Friday and amounts to raises of about $400 per year for teachers beginning July 1. The bill now goes to the House of Delegates.
The vote came as teachers from Logan, Mingo and Wyoming counties held a one-day walkout to rally at the Capitol seeking pay raises and better health benefits.
A day earlier, Senate Republicans cited fiscal concerns in rejecting attempts by Democrats for larger pay increases.
Democrats stood Friday to say they would vote for the bill but they did not like it.
Logan County Democrat Ojeda said after the vote that he had introduced a bill Thursday that would raise the oil and gas severance tax by 2.5 percent in order to bring in more revenue for a better raise.
He said the state's lawmakers let coal go without taxing it sufficiently and they should not make the same mistake with oil and gas.
"We know we are standing on the richest grounds in the United States of America, and we know it's coming," Ojeda said. "If 2.5 percent equals $70 million and the straws fall, next thing you know you have $300 million. Then we will be able to easily give real raises, not percentages."
Berkeley County Democrat John Unger called the bill an insult.
"It's like going to a restaurant, ordering a big meal and leaving a penny tip," Unger said. "It's a slap in the face, and to me, I'm outraged by this."
Then he threw a coin into the air: "Here's my penny tip."
Unger said it was disingenuous for lawmakers to say they don't have $40 million to fund a 3 percent raise while attempting to repeal the inventory tax, which will cost the state $140 million in revenues.
But Senate Republicans asked for patience, saying they want to see better wages for all state employees, but it's just not fiscally possible at this moment.
"There is nothing that would thrill me more than to be able to walk out knowing ... we got them above the national average," Kanawha County Republican Tom Takubo said. "But we have to be fiscally responsible."
According to the National Education Association, West Virginia teachers earn an average salary of $45,622, which ranks 48th among the states. The national average is $58,353.
Sen. Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, said he couldn't believe people were offended by the 1 percent raise and asked for patience.
"We want to do more; it's just not in the pocketbook," he said.
For the teachers, the 1 percent combined with increasing premiums to their health insurance is what is offensive.
"We want them to fully fund PEIA and stop messing around with our livelihood," said Chris Harris, Mingo County High School Spanish teacher. "It's basically a deduction in pay, what they are doing with our insurance. Then trying to disguise it by giving us that 1 percent raise that doesn't even begin to offset the cost of insurance."
Insurance premiums are scheduled to go up July 1.
Brittany Bauer, an advanced-placement science teacher at Wyoming East High School, said both she and her husband work two jobs. She said she'll have to come up with an extra $300 per month if the increases go through.
"Three hundred dollars is a lot to come up with," she said.
At public hearings later this month, the West Virginia Public Employees Insurance Agency finance board will hear Gov. Jim Justice's proposal to reduce premiums for families that have two state incomes, including teachers. Those premiums would be based on half of their combined state income, resulting in significantly lower premiums compared with the proposed increases.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow reporter Taylor Stuck on Twitter and Facebook @TaylorStuckHD.