State employees, officials tell Montana Senate panel to restore raises

2013-04-09T19:45:00Z 2013-04-09T20:17:25Z State employees, officials tell Montana Senate panel to restore raises missoulian.com

HELENA – Some state employees and state officials asked a Senate committee Tuesday to pass a pay increase bill for state workers, but not before restoring it to the original level agreed to by unions and then-Gov. Brian Schweitzer last summer.

The Senate Finance and Claims Committee heard but took no action on House Bill 13 by Rep. Kathy Swanson, D-Anaconda.

She told how employees of state institutions in her area make so little money they often have to rent low-income housing and their children qualify for free school lunches and Healthy Montana Kids health care.

“This is your opportunity to tell state employees that they have worth,” Swanson said.

As introduced, HB13 called for giving all state employees an increase in state pay of 5 percent in each of the next two years.

Many state employees have not received an increase in their base pay for four years.

However, about half of the executive branch workers received a pay raise in fiscal 2012 under separate “broadband” pay increase.

To get the bill through House Appropriations Committee, the panel stripped out the two 5 percent pay increases and instead appropriated a lump sum of $113.7 million for the executive branch to divvy up in raises. That’s $38.2 million, or 25 percent less, than the $151.9 million that Gov. Steve Bullock had put in his budget for the matching 5 percent raises.

The amended bill directs executive branch officials to pay “particular attention to the lower pay bands and those who did not receive base pay increases in the biennium beginning July 1, 2011.”

Ali Bovingdon, deputy chief of staff to Bullock, testified for the bill, but said, “The money presented in HB13 does not go far enough.”

Also testifying for the full raises were Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. Representatives of the Montana University System and Montana judiciary also endorsed the bill.

A number of employees testified, saying they took time off from their jobs to appear.

Attorney Annie Peterson said she worked for three years for the Office of State Public Defenders but left to take a job with Lewis and Clark County.

“We cannot afford to be state employees, and that’s unfortunate,” she said. “I wish I could have stayed a state employee.”

Zoe Ann Stoltz, reference historian at the Montana Historical Society, said she returned to college after raising her children.

“It has been amazing to me the lack of respect and indifference my colleagues and I receive from this process,” she said. “I’m here to tell you everyone I work with works their arse off for the state of Montana, for the people of Montana.”

Missoulian State Bureau reporter Charles S. Johnson can be reached at (406) 447-4066 or by email at chuck.johnson@lee.net.

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