The House Appropriations Committee heard HB 13, better known as the state employee pay plan on Tuesday March 21. For the first time in a long-time state employees have a true champion as our bill sponsor in Representative Moffie “Uptown” Funk (D-HD 82). As an incumbent, Moffie has some juice and the drive to guide HB 13 through the legislative process. She set the appropriate tone for the hearing and did a masterful job of setting up the committee to hear from the state employees who came to testify for their pay plan. Per usual, no opponents testified against the bill but the Republican members of the committee made it plain with their follow up questions that once again they find the notion of giving state employees a modest pay increase (1% each year of the biennium) an odious proposal.
Representative Tom Burnett (R-HD 67) suggested state employees don’t work as long or hard as private sector workers who work 50 and 60 hour weeks. Tell that to a Department of Revenue auditor now with tax season at full roar or a correctional officer at Montana State Prison who is working mandatory overtime. Burnett, to the approval of his party members commented on the fact that state employees enjoy benefits private sector workers must pay for themselves such as healthcare and retirement. I did some fact checking since alternative facts are all the rage now and noted that to date I personally have paid over $3,000 for my medical insurance and an additional $900 to retirement. Busted!
From there, it just got worse as Representatives Brodehl, Tschida, Patelis, Bartel, and Cook shifted the focus from the pay plan to the findings of the Legislative Audit Division’s January report on Oversight of Discretionary Pay Changes for State Employees. This report indicated what state employees have known since 2007, there is no oversight of the broadband pay plan…none…and as such state agencies have fast and loose in some instances under this wild west scenario. They all wanted to know if Governor Bullock’s office had a plan to correct the situation, a situation with NO bearing on HB 13. Another disturbing point during the hearing was the complete disregard of our union reps who testified for the plan and made themselves available to the committee for informational purposes. This suggest two things. One, the Republicans in that committee have no respect for the work state employees do, or any real desire to fairly compensate state employees for their work but we knew this already. Second, while the Democrats profess to be on our side, their lack of voice suggests they either have no clue how to help union workers in the public sector or simply do not have the will.
Representative Nancy Balance, chair of House Appropriations, suggested the committee would take executive action on HB 13 this week… hang on to your butt.