House rejects state pay plan again

April 21, 2011 / Comments (0)


Apr. 27 – The Montana House voted to reconsider the state pay plan, HB 13, yesterday.


Then, following heated debate, the bill died on second reading, 42-58. All Democrats and 10 Republicans voted yes. All other Republicans voted no. Go here for the vote.


What now? Today, Apr. 27,  there will be a motion to reconsider HB 13. Our message at this point: No pay plan, then no budget bill (HB 2). We encourage MEA-MFT members to contact friends in the Montana Senate and tell them so. 406.444.4800 or e-mail them here.


Not even a revenue trigger mechanism could capture 19 Republican Party votes to pass this bill yesterday. 


One opponent after another argued on the House floor that private sector employees are suffering while public sector employees enjoy health care insurance, retirement benefits, and job security.


Opponents made these arguments not long after the House passed HB 439, the bonding bill, 57-43.  Unfortunately, HB 439 must garner at least 67 votes on 3d reading, presumably tomorrow.  In short, HB 439 is 10 Republican-Party votes short of passing. 


Apparently a tea party-dominated Republican Party majority is determined to freeze state employee salaries for two more years and not bond a penny to put private sector contractors, carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, and hundreds of other private sector employees to work building and rebuilding necessary public infrastructure across the Montana university system and including the Montana Historical Society. 


These people do in fact want to kill government. It does matter who sits in seats with votes.  Mark the NO votes . . . and don’t forget.


Is HB 13 now dead for this session? Nothing is over until the legislature adjourns. 


News story below:

House rejects pay plan bill again

By CHARLES S. JOHNSON IR State Bureau | April 27, 2011


The bill to give state employees pay raises once again stalled in the House Tuesday, possibly dooming it for the session.


The House turned down House Bill 13 on a 58-42 vote, even after adopting an amendment to make the pay hikes contingent on state tax collections hitting a certain trigger. Fifty-eight Republicans opposed the bill, while all 32 Democrats and 10 Republicans supported it.


It’s the second time the bill, by Rep. Cynthia Hiner, D-Deer Lodge, has failed to muster the needed votes in the House. The bill failed 60-40 last week, but the House voted to reconsider it Tuesday. Last month, she failed to blast the bill out of committee on a 54-39 vote before the House Appropriations Committee finally passed it out last week.


HB13 would have given state employees a 1 percent raise in January 2012 and a 3 percent pay hike in January 2013 at a $21 million cost to the general fund. It would cover 10,600 employees.


It was a deal negotiated last fall by Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s administration with leaders of the three major public employee unions, whose members voted to ratify it.


Two years ago, with Montana facing a severe recession, state employee unions agreed to a two-year pay freeze for many of their members. However, those making less than $45,000 annually received a one-time $450 payment.


During debate Tuesday, Hiner, a nurse at the state men’s prison, called the current pay plan “a very modest agreement.” She said state employees “stood with the state” in 2009 with a pay freeze and it was time for the state to stand by them in 2011 with a pay raise.


She got an amendment through to use the same trigger on the pay plan bill that is on the separate bonding bill. Under her amendment, the pay raises wouldn’t be implemented unless the actual tax collections for the fiscal year that ends June 30 exceed the estimate made by a bipartisan interim legislative committee in November by $35 million.


Rep. John Esp, R-Big Timber, said the trigger is nearly certain to be met because actual tax collections are within $1.2 million of hitting the mark that would authorize the pay hikes if the bill were to pass. A more appropriate trigger would be $70 million, he said.


It was largely a partisan debate, with Democrats standing up for the pay hikes and Republicans opposing them.


“We ask state employees to do very valuable work, a lot of tasks we wouldn’t want to do,” said Rep. Mike Menahan, D-Helena, who cited workers at the state veterans home in Columbia Falls and the state mental hospital in Warm Springs.


Rep. Brian Hoven, R-Great Falls, said state employees, at least at the Transportation Department, draw good salaries, great benefits and few job security risks.


“I can’t compete with them,” the businessman said.


Rep. Derek Skees, R-Whitefish, said state employees do “a phenomenal job” but the state can’t afford to raise their pay. Skees, a general contractor, told how private carpenters in the Flathead Valley who previously made $30 an hour in wages and benefits, now are lucky to make $14 an hour.


“I’m sorry that you had to have a pay freeze,” he said about state workers. “Life is good for state employees.”


Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, a retired state employee who now is a private employer, said state workers are being asked to pick up the slack when other workers quit or retire. The state now sets budget anticipating a vacancy savings rate of 7 percent, which means that vacant jobs aren’t filled immediately.


House Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte, said the state has sufficient money to afford the pay hikes.


“We have to think of these state employees, 10,000 strong, as our neighbors,” he said.


But House Majority Leader Tom McGillvray, R-Billings, said some state employees also receive bonuses in addition to their salaries.


He said 580,000 Montanans pay the taxes that cover the pay of 10,000 or 11,000 state employees.


“They will never dream of having the kind of guaranteed pension, health care and pay that public employees do,” the House Republican leader said.



What you should know about the state pay plan:

• HB 13 contains a modest 1% base salary increase for all state employees in 2012 and 3% in 2013.


State employees deserve this modest increase. They voluntarily agreed to a two-year pay freeze in 2009, when the Great Recession hit Montana. They stepped up to the plate and made the sacrifice for their state. 


The money is there for this modest increase. Montana has sufficient revenue to fund HB 13.


State employees have been asked to do more with less for years. They have been dealing with  vacancy savings, understaffing, and rising health insurance premiums.


• Republican legislators keep saying they can’t give state employees this modest increase because of “unemployment” in Montana. But freezing state salaries employees won’t do anything to decrease unemployment.


•  In fact, giving state employees this modest increase will allow them to spend more money in their local communities, thus helping local businesses thrive. That can only help employment across the state.


•  Plus, when people are unemployed, they need public services more than ever to get back on their feet. We need to keep quality state employees providing these services. The modest increase in HB 13 will help retain good state employees.


• Republican legislators claim that private sector employees aren’t getting a pay increase. But that’s not true. Dept. of Labor Statistics shows that private sector employees both nationally and in Montana are seeing pay increases.


Apr. 20 – House rejects state pay plan (HB 13)


40 House members voted YES – 60 voted NO


See vote here.

All 32 Democrats and 8 Rrepublicans voted YES.


The following Rs voted YES: Ankney, Bangerter, Fitzpatrick, Gibson, Hale, Lavin, Miller, and Yates. Lavin spoke briefly in support. Yates voted YES but not before effectively speaking against the bill, arguing against a pay increase across the board.


The rest of the Republicans voted NO.


Republicans gave the pay plan a verbal trashing on the floor of the House.

Apparently a two-year pay freeze – and an impending new two-year freeze in state contributions to employee health insurance – is not enough. The overwhelming Republican majority voted that state employees should just suck wind for two more years.


Yes, it does matter who sits in legislative seats with votes.


Republican legislators standing to condemn the pay plan completely ignored the fact the money is there to fund the plan. It has been there from the beginning of the session. The legislature could have adopted this pay plan in January and done no harm to our state’s capacity to pay for things down the road.


Not one Republican legislator thanked state employees for the personal economic sacrifices they have already made.


Several did talk about how important state employees are and the good work they do, but most insisted times are hard, thousands of private-sector Montanans are still unemployed (as if hurting public-sector employees will help that situation), timber’s down, etc. etc.


All this rhetoric and more.


If no deal is made (with the governor and themselves) to reconsider and pass a pay plan, we expect to see all legislators back in special session.


Let your legislators know what you think. Contact your local legislators here. Or contact all legislators here.



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