They Get The Gold Mine, You Get The Shaft

how-to-not-ask-for-a-salary-increaseThis morning House Appropriations, led by Representative Nancy Ballance, tabled the state employee pay plan.  With only two days to move an appropriations bill it looks like that token 1% pay raise is dead, then again, it was probably dead on arrival to begin with.  This decade of legislative sessions and state worker pay has brought those on the earning end no love from the people they elect and send to Helena.  Ironic huh?  Maybe that’s just a cause and effect of a voter who works for the State of Montana and casts a ballot with ideology in mind instead of their paycheck.

Maybe the real irony lies in the fact that on January 5th the very same committee voted 21 to 1 to pass House Bill 1 which contained a 14% increase for legislators.  Pile that on top of  their free government health care, payment into the retirement plan, a fancy new laptop and you have plenty of salt for the wounds of state workers.  Never mind the fact that the head for state employees, Governor Bullock, sent the bill back with some amendatory vetoes and then two weeks later just let it become law as presented.   And pay no attention to those union bosses who are mumbling ‘but we’ve always done it this way’.  They’re dazed and confused by yet another kick in the crotch from the legislative and executive branches.

Certainly there’s time for the likes of Villa, Cook and Jones to concoct a plan that slides the 11017119_10153146765842910_4069452162657497198_nnecessary funds somewhere to give the maximum wing guard at the Montana State Prison a $312 a year raise, and that’s a job that starts out at fifteen bucks an hour.  Or maybe it’s just too much to ask to move a pay raise of $192 a year for the cooks in Lewistown at the Home for the Aging as they feed the disabled their last meals.

So you state workers can sit a while longer and see what magic can get worked up there on the second floor over some whiskey in the dark of night.  But you may want to remember they got theirs on day 4 of this session.


‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’


State Fund Lives One More Day

Two days ago the workers compensation industry was all abuzz with the news that they may finally get a piece of the injured worker action from Montana State Fund as the ThrillVictoryAgonyDefeat_280x280[1]insurer of last resort.  Earlier this week bill drafts were floating around the Capitol that either eliminated State Fund completely by the middle of this summer or turned it into a mutual fund by early 2019.  Folks lined up quickly with Victory Insurance putting all of its eggs in Senator Moore’s basket on one side and State Fund landing on the soft side to oppose either bill but sort of, kind of, well maybe support a study bill related to becoming a mutual fund.  Injured workers just wanted to know who was going to take care of them.

Both bills made their way to a hearing, one right after the other and of course both with all of the same players in the room.  Just a shift of positions from one bill to the next.  Well, except for Victory Insurance who didn’t pivot from the take over stance.  Victory got their time at the podium by filling the room with paid staff and paid lobbyists like Kim Gillan who sat silently and Scott Reichner who couldn’t seem to remember what year he last served in the Legislature.  Reichner has always been on the wrong side of the tracks from injured workers.  Gillan clearly collected her 30 pieces of silver and held the company banner high.

And despite all of those Victory suits, all of that Victory money and the vast knowledge of two former legislators, Victory’s grab for the State Fund pot of gold has failed.  Both bills were tabled after taking the entire morning and confusing, as well as annoying the committee.  Any annoyance was more than justified given the timing and the fact that legislators believe they can vacate the building by Good Friday.  No time, no energy, no consensus and no path.  Lanny Hubbard and the Montana State Fund have dodged ayoure-fired-15-5[1] bullet today, make that two bullets.  Hubbard has been the target of some powerful legislators like Jim Keane for a while now.  Lanny and his board have two years to either prepare to be privatized or dump some baggage and clean up their image.  But there’s a lot of ego in that shiny building in down town Helena, so we’ll see if one person goes or 300.


‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

A Threesome: MEIC, Talon and PSE

Have you read the  blog posted over at Intelligent Discontent. The author argues in support of Senate Bill 338 which would obligate the utilities closing units 1 and 2 in Colstrip to help the workers and their families transition. The fact of the matter is that the mess in Colstrip is not the fault of workers, never has been. The responsibility belongs to massive out-of-state utilities who put more profit ahead of environmental standards and the interests of the people who labored to make them those huge profits.  A reasonable and responsible proposal.

Senate Bill 338 also seems like a pretty basic piece of legislation that should fly through the Montana Legislature. Unfortunately, that may not be the case.

So what’s the problem and who’s in the way?  MEIC, that’s who!  The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) is lobbying hard to kill this legislation. MEIC is hoping to build a coalition of free market Republicans and corporate Democrats in order to destroy any hope for Colstrip workers. In the end and once again, workers are on the losing end of that relationship.

hedgesHow is MEIC doing this? They’re using a red herring. Anne Hedges, MEIC’s Lead Lobbyist writes, Senate Bill 338 “moves us in the direction of punishing businesses that have invested billions in the state and are ready to move to the new energy economy. The town of Colstrip needs help with transition, and that doesn’t include scaring away new business.”

MEIC’s argument is disingenuous at best and a corporate lie at worst.  And just plain confusing given its history of lawsuits.

The reason units 1 and 2 are closing is because of a successful lawsuit litigated by none other than  MEIC and the Sierra Club. It’s pretty rich that MEIC is now all of a sudden concerned about Montana’s business climate, particularly the resource extraction business. The fact of the matter is that corporate America uses these kind of scare tactics to keep their huge profits safe without taking any responsibility for their actions. It’s sad that MEIC is Talon’s mouthpiece and siding with corporations over people.

Additionally, the facts just don’t agree with the story MEIC is trying to sell. When Puget Sound Energy closed a coal plant in Washington state, they paid the community almost $50 million. Guess what? Puget Sound Energy is still operating in Washington and investing in Washington.

Don’t buy the lies and the corporate rhetoric. Senate Bill 338 is a simple bill that could be 5af3e46500b316f124a31c5889970162of tremendous help to the people of Colstrip. More than that, the community has earned the support of the utilities, even if the legislature has to be the one to hold Talon accountable.  It’s long past the time of leaving small town Montana high and dry when companies pull the shades on the head office and sneak out of town in the dark of night with groups like MEIC driving the getaway car.


‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’

Injured Workers For Profit

There’s trouble brewing for injured workers and even the people who serve them. Victory Insurance has set its sights on the Montana State Fund this Legislative Session. Victory Insurance prides itself as being “Montanan’s only private workers’ compensation insurance carrier.”

The State Fund, which handles a significant amount of worker compensation claims for people hurt on the job and is the insurer of last resort, has many problems. Their 50ca1d61b977b.preview-620[1]incredibly well-paid executives often put financial incentives ahead of the needs of injured Montana workers, their families and in fact, their own employees. This blog has highlighted the State Funds problem of diverting profits to exorbitant salaries and benefits of its executives, in particular President and CEO Lanny Hubbard whose hourly wage is, are you ready? A cool $146.64 every hour Hubbard sits on the third floor in his  corner office. The State Fund has even worked behind the scenes to kill presumption of illness laws that would benefit fire fighters. Al Ekblad, Executive Secretary of the Montana AFL-CIO has described the State Fund as having “an active role in attacking workers, not honoring them.”

Things could get even worse. Victory Insurance wants to privatize (or “liquidate”) the Montana State Fund. Such a move would result in employees of the State Fund no longer being state employees, forfeiting union protections, and losing pensions.  According to a letter posted on Facebook by the MPEA, all jobs would be lost. Furthermore, the State Fund’s mission would become even more profit-driven, which means even more abysmal outcomes for injured workers.

It appears that Victory Insurance has come to this session ready to play hardball. They have four lobbyists working the session and they’ve recently brought on former State Senator and congressional candidate Kim Gillan as a lobbyist. They know that targeting Democrats will be key. Interestingly, Gillan is also lobbying for Talen Energy, which is hoping to either extract a big pay day from Montana taxpayers or squelch on their commitments to workers in Colstrip.

One last note on Gillan who served in the House from 1996-2004 and the 583e49eb0e951.image[1]Senate from 2004-2012.   When she termed out of both chambers she made an ill fated bid for Congress and handed the seat to Steve Daines.  The Democrat turned corporate lobbyist received endorsements from organized labor in every election cycle.  Ironically, labor has never failed to ask where a candidate stands on privatization.  The answer must be ‘opposed’ to receive an endorsement.  Like her fellow Senator Mary Caferro, Gillan only cared about her answers when she needed the boots and dollars of labor.


‘Maybe all men got one big soul ever’body’s a part of.’



Al Capone’s Vault

unsolved_mysteries1There’s a frenzy in Helena today with the special Democratic Party Convention and then tomorrow for the Republicans.  Well, more or less anyway.  But with all this nomination business, Elsie Arntzen is hoping to catch a break since there’s no media focus on her.  Then again, what is there to focus on?  Wasn’t there some dustup about ACT reporting and then an investigation that wasn’t really an investigation?  Wasn’t that all supposed to end last week?

You would think that between the accusations made by Arntzen and her numerous missteps since that she would have wanted to release the information that CMS has uncovered to save face.  Or could it be they are still taping together shredded pieces of paper in hopes they’ll finally find that smoking gun.

Rumor has it she’s also retained the services of Geraldo Rivera after watching a rerun of img_6412his failed break in at Al Capone’s vault from 1986.  An email tip brought this picture of Rivera and a member of the CMS staff searching for evidence that will prove former OPI head Juneau falsified records.

Keep digging Elsie, but don’t keep us waiting too long.


‘Maybe all men got one big soul every’body’s a part of.’