Yesterday was a good day for MEA-MFT members. The Montana House of Representatives passed three crucial bills:
- the state pay plan (HB 13)
- two bills to amortize and save the Teachers Retirement System (HB 377) and Public Employees Retirement System (HB 454).
All three bills now advance to the Senate, where we will have the opportunity to fix problematic amendments that were added to all three bills in committee.
Had these bills died in the House, the ballgame would be over for the state pay plan and for fixing our public pension systems.
But now we have the chance, as these bills move forward, to eliminate unfortunate and unnecessary GABA amendments in the pension bills, and to put more money into HB 13. We’re in the first quarter of a four-quarter ballgame.
Pay, pension bills clear House
BY CHARLES S. JOHNSON IR STATE BUREAU – MARCH 28, 2013
On a bipartisan vote Wednesday, the Montana House endorsed a pay raise for state
employees and a pair of bills to fix Montana’s financially ailing public pension funds.
The bills face a final vote before advancing to the Senate.
Today is the deadline for spending bills to move from one house to the other, while April 5 is the transmittal deadline for taxation bills.
The pay bill, House Bill 13, by Rep. Kathy Swanson, D-Anaconda, passed 69-31. The tally showed that 30 Republicans joined all 39 Democrats to vote for it, while 31 Republicans and no Democrats opposed it.
The bill is in much different shape than the original bill, which called for across-the-board raises in state workers’ base pay of 5 percent in each of the next two years.
That was the original deal negotiated last summer by then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer and three public employee unions and later endorsed by Gov. Steve Bullock.
Most employees have seen their base pay frozen over the past four years.
Supporters of the proposed raises couldn’t muster the support to get the twin 5 percent raises out of House Appropriations Committee. One reason was that Republicans found that more than half of the executive branch workers had received pay raises in fiscal 2012 under the separate broadband pay plan.
As the bill stands now, it appropriates a lump sum of $113.7 million for raises, which is $38.2 million, or 25 percent, less than the $151.9 million that Gov. Steve Bullock had budgeted. It directs executive branch officials to pay “particular attention to the lower pay bands and those who did not receive a base pay increase in the biennium beginning July 1, 2011.”
Money in the bill also covers raises for the legislative and judicial branches and the Montana university system.
Although Swanson called the changes in the bill “disappointing,” she said, “It is time to act on it and show all involved that we are indeed acting in good faith.”
Rep. Steve Gibson, R-East Helena, who made the amendment in committee, said the changes are aimed at getting pay raises to those in the lowest pay rungs and to those who haven’t had pay hike.
Those decisions will be up to the Bullock administration, he said.
“I’m going to put my trust in this administration,” he said. “They are in a spot where they are going to trust you.”
Hypothetically, under the bill, a low-paid employee could get a 10 percent raise, he said, while someone making $100,000 could get a 1 percent hike.
He said the state workers whose base pay has been frozen don’t just live in Helena, but live in communities throughout the state.