Bill Would Limit State Gov Salaries to Twice That of Average Family

BY PHIL DRAKE

HELENA–Forty-six percent of state employees make more than $60,000 in salary and benefits and 16 percent make more than $80,000, according to information provided by the Legislative Fiscal Division to a lawmaker who wants to cap employee pay.

The totals represent salary, longevity and all benefits including insurance, Legislative Fiscal Division analyst Terry Johnson wrote earlier this month to Sen. Dave Lewis, R-Helena. The report analyzes salaries of 13,524 employees. Lewis said the report did not include university employees.
Johnson said benefits increase the compensation significantly.

Lewis, a former state budget director, is drafting a bill that will limit salaries to about 200 percent of what an average Montana family makes, or $80,000. He said he got the idea while campaigning for a colleague, adding he was surprised by the number of state employees complaining about the salaries of their supervisors.

Lewis wants to put the issue on the November 2012 ballot for taxpayers to vote on. “They are the ones paying the bill,” he said.

According to the report by Johnson, 2,176 employees (16 percent) made more than $79,999; 1,653 (12 percent) made up to $79,999; 2,408 (18 percent) made as much $69,999; 3,263 made up to $59,999 (24 percent); 2,637 made as much $49,999 (20 percent) and 1,227 (9 percent) made $39,999.

According to the Legislative Fiscal Division, 139 (1 percent) made at least $29,999 and 21 employees (0.16 percent) made $19,999.

In a paper he submitted to fellow Republicans, Lewis wrote: “We have over 2,000 state employees, not counting the university system, who make more than 200 percent of median family income for Montana. I think of the taxpayers as rangeland which produces grass and has a certain carrying capacity. You overgraze and you cause permanent damage to the resource. Uncon-trolled state employee salary growth cannot be supported by families who have $40,000 family incomes.”

Lewis said he told fellow GOP members recently he is drafting a bill to cap salaries. “I didn’t ask for a commitment, I just asked them to think about it,” he said. “I look forward to their questions.”

An official with a union criticized the idea. “I’m totally surprised,” said Jim McGarvey, executive secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO. “I think this is one of the most egregious assaults on the integrity of the collective bargaining process for public employees which was enacted in 1972 in the state of Montana. It also flies in the face of the free market.”
You have to compete with the private sector for certain aggregates in state government,” said McGarvey, whose union represents more than 36,000 Montana workers.” It’s just a bad idea.”

Eric Feaver, president of the MEA-MFT, the state’s largest public employees union, told the Lee State Bureau he disagrees with Lewis and said Montana state employees are paid below market. He said he found it troubling that Lewis did not want future state employees to enjoy the same salaries and benefits that he [Lewis) has enjoyed.
In an interview last week, Gov. Schweitzer told Montana Watchdog he has seen where salaries of employees in the public sector are 30 percent to 100 percent higher than salaries in the private sector. “The average taxpayer is making $40,000 and someone [in the public sector] is making three times as much, I understand the frustration,” he said.

Schweitzer added that there are 200 or 300 people in state government who make more than the governor.

Lewis said his bill will include a provision to salary exceptions to be granted by the governor for the executive branch, chief justice for the judicial branch, and legislative council for the legislative branch.

Current salaries would be rolled back to the cap after one year, unless an exception is granted.

Lewis said he has already been contacted by the National Taxpayers Union, who said they’d like to be updated as the proposal progresses. The NTU did not return a call seeking comment.

Lewis has said that when he worked as the state budget director he made $55,000. At a Nov. 15 news conference to unveil the state budget, Schweitzer disputed that claim. The governor flashed a slide on the screen that showed in 1992 and 1999, Lewis’ had salaries of $70,000 and $75,304. Schweitzer said the 1999 salary, adjusted for inflation, would be $108,986 in 2010.

He told Lewis that 2 percent of the executive branch made $80,000 or more, whereas 19 percent of the legislative branch made more than $80,000.

Schweitzer told Lewis it would be good for him to get his own house in order before talking “about someone else’s kitchen.”

Lewis said he took a cut in pay when he left the Board of Investments to become state budget director. He later dismissed the governor’s point as “irrelevant.”

“What I am arguing about is the salary schedules increases over the past 10 years,” he said.

Lewis said salary caps are being looked at on the federal level. Recently President Obama said he wanted to freeze salaries of federal employees for two years. “I acknowledge it’s a very unusual step, but we’re still way short in the budget.” Lewis said. “I’m reacting to what I was told by people.”

 

 

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