Pay plan bill altered in committee

March 18, 2013 / Comments (0)




House Appropriations Committee finally acted on HB 13, the state pay plan. The hearing room was at its maximum capacity, with many state employees spending their Saturday at the hearing. 

On a straight party line vote, 13-8, the committee adopted an amendment that carved off $38 dollars from the plan, reducing it from $151 to $113 million. Republicans voted for the amendment, Democrats against.


Then committee then voted to pass the bill onto the floor of the House, with a strange recommendation that state employee unions slice and dice the remainder with the governor. 


At least the bill has moved to the House floor, where legislators can debate and amend it.


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Committee amends pay bill to eliminate across-the-board raises

By CHARLES S. JOHNSON IR State Bureau – March 23, 2013
A split House Appropriations Committee approved a state pay plan Saturday, but stripped out the 5 percent raises in base pay for state workers in each of the next two years that Gov. Steve Bullock and unions had sought.


The amended version of House Bill 13, which goes to the House floor for debate, no longer

provides for any across-the-board percentage pay hikes for state employees.


Instead, it appropriates a lump sum of money of $113.7 million for the executive branch to divvy up its share of the amount in raises. The bill directs executive branch officials to pay “particular attention to the lower pay bands and those who did not receive base pay increase in the biennium beginning July 1, 2011.”


That money in the bill is $38.2 million, or 25 percent less, than the $151.9 million Bullock had proposed from all sources of money to fund the twin 5 percent raises.


An amendment by Rep. Steve Gibson, R-East Helena, removed the 5 percent annual raises and cut the overall funding sought by Bullock for pay hikes.


Gibson pleaded with the committee to support the amended bill.


“If this bill dies here today, it probably will be tabled,” he said. “I urge you to get it on the floor. Give these people who haven’t had a raise a raise. How you do it, I don’t care.”


Gibson said more negotiations likely will occur with the governor’s office over the lump sum of money if the bill goes to the House floor.


His amendment passed 13-8, with all Republicans for it and all Democrats against it. The amended bill passed by the same vote.


“I think it gives the opportunity for the governor to negotiate with labor to get those people who didn’t get (broadband) raises and in the lower bands to get higher raises,” Gibson said afterward.


Hypothetically, he said, a department could give a worker in a low pay band job an 8 percent raise, and a 1 percent increase to someone making $120,000.


Bullock criticized the committee’s action, saying in a statement: “We’re talking about people’s lives and careers. It’s not like we’re haggling over the price of a used truck.”


The Democratic governor added, “Many of our public servants – like snowplow drivers and nurses – have gone five years without a raise. Without raising taxes, I have proposed a balanced budget that honors these public employees with a fair raise. It’s time to implement it.


Union leaders’ reactions


Reaction among union leaders varied in tone, with all expressing concern about the 5 percent raises being dropped and the funding reduced.


I’m outraged,” said MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver. “They’ve completely ignored the collective bargaining process. I don’t know how they look themselves in the mirror this morning to treat their employees this way.”


“I’m happy the pay bill’s still alive,” said Quint Nyman, executive director of the Montana Public Employees Association. “I’m disappointed with the amount of money that came out of it. I’m open to the latitude it creates in terms of drilling down to the lowest pay employees.”


Timm Twardoski, executive director of Montana Council 9 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers, said, “I think we’re close. The good part is that it’s out. Whatever we end up with, the state employees and their representatives will be able to negotiate.”


Many state employees haven’t had an across-the-board raise in base pay for four years. However, more than half of the executive branch workers received separate “broadband” pay hikes in fiscal 2012.


Legislators have criticized how agencies in the Schweitzer administration gave broadband raises.


“We saw some people who got a 29 percent raise and a small agency where everyone got 11 percent,” Gibson said. “I think that frustrates people.”


Meanwhile, other agencies gave no broadband raises, he said.


“I’m putting my trust in this administration,” Gibson said. “I’m putting my trust in the people out there in labor to do the right thing. … What is done is done.”


Rep. Galen Hollenbaugh, D-Helena, said he agreed with some of Gibson’s “displeasure” about the previous administration’s handling of broadband pay raises, but opposed his amendment.


“What it really appears like is we are punishing the existing employees and the new administration coming in,” Hollenbaugh said. “We’re not really giving them a chance.”


Hollenbaugh said the public employees had negotiated the 5 percent and 5 percent pay raises with Schweitzer.


“A deal’s a deal,” he said.


When the recession hit before the 2009 Legislature, state employee unions agreed to a two-year voluntary pay freeze, Hollenbaugh said.


In 2010, Schweitzer and the unions agreed on raises of 1 percent and 3 percent, but the 2011 Legislature “crushed” that deal, Hollenbaugh said. That led to another two-year freeze in workers’ base pay.


“Here we are in a third session, even in the face with the large surplus we have, we’re still trying to cut a lot of this deal,” he said.


Gibson disputed the comment about the large surplus. With a number of bills to reduce taxes are still alive, he said, it’s impossible to say what the projected balance will be.


What’s in the bill


Here is a summary of what House Bill 13, as amended Saturday, proposes for a pay plan for state employees:


No five and five


The amendments remove the proposed 5 percent raises in base pay in each of the next two years that unions and the Schweitzer administration had negotiated. It provides no percentage pay raises.


25 percent less than Bullock wanted


Instead, it appropriates $113.7 million to cover pay raises over the next two fiscal years. That’s 25 percent, or $38.2 million, less than the $151.9 million that Gov. Steve Bullock had proposed in his budget for pay hikes.


Directions to executive branch


The bill directs the executive branch to give pay raises “with particular attention to the lower pay bands and those who did not receive a base pay increase during the biennium beginning July 1, 2011.


Legislative, judicial raises


As for the other two branches of government, it provides money for the legislative branch to give its employees pay raises averaging 3.5 percent in each of the next two years and the judicial branch to give its employees raises averaging 3 percent over the same period.


–IR State Bureau

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