The MT GOP, aka the “he-man public employee haters club”, arrived in Helena on January 2 with one purpose to make sure state government spends the taxpayers’ money wisely over the next two years. On the flip side of this posturing, these same legislators in two months passed their own pay increase buried in the lump sum numbers of HB 1, which also funds the 2019 session. Governor Steve Bullock drew a line in the sand and line-item vetoed their pay increase and sent it back. The legislature rejected the Governor’s recommendation and passed their bill again. Governor Bullock decided to ignore the bill this time until it became law without his signature. Obviously the wind blew hard enough through the halls of the capital to erase his line. Next time maybe spray paint it on the floor of the rotunda where the breeze is gentler.
Leap forward two months to the end of March and the MT GOP majority on the House Appropriations committee heard HB 13, the state and university employees pay raise. Union members played it cool this session with no outward expression regarding their pay raise until the hearing in House Appropriations on March 21. During the hearing the governor’s representatives answered a number of questions asked primarily by the Republican members of the committee. “Why a percentage increase instead of something for the lower paid employees?” Ms. Sessano, “because our managers and supervisors are well below market and they have not seen a significant pay increase over the last two years.” Really! Wasn’t the pay raise negotiated by union members for union members? Well yes but we all know the negotiated pay raise goes to everyone in state government. “Aw Gee”!
Seven days later on a straight party line vote the Republicans on the committee following the lead of Chair Nancy Ballance tabled HB 13. Why, because in good conscience they just couldn’t sign off on a pay raise for people who obviously care so little for the public good that they devote their careers to serving. Adding insult to injury, the future raise for public employees became a pawn in the political gamesmanship between the Governor’s budget office and the MT GOP.
Over the next several weeks the suggestion of a pay increase hung like a shade from legislative sessions past in the halls of power as Senator Llew “Spanky” Jones (R-SD 9) and his favorite side-kick Rob “Alfalfa” Cook (R-HD 18), held meetings between the two gangs (Republicans and Democrats) late at night in the office of Dan “Lil’ Bull” Villa and willing patsy Senator Minority Leader Jon “Uh-huh” Sesso (D-SD 37). Over thick steaks and expensive whiskey at the clubhouse they made a deal, for the greater good, to ignore the fact that at least one side had bargained in good faith. In case you’re wondering, it was not the governor’s team, but this is how they make sausage and law. “AND HOW”!
Now we reach the end game. On the penultimate day, House Speaker Austin “Butch” Knudsen finally held a 3rd reading on SB 294, which contained a modified version of a state and university employee pay raise. The major change to the original bill is the implementation date of February for each year of the biennium rather than the negotiated November. It passed and as one union boss quipped, “It’s better than a sharp poke in the eye”!
Not so fast there you little rascal! For three sessions state employees gave up their lunch hours to stand in the halls with signs claiming “a deal is a deal” and “honor the deal”. While it’s true it hasn’t worked with the Republican majority the last thing they expected was getting two-stepped by the chief executive and his budget director. No harm no foul, everyone knows state employees don’t work a full day anyhow and in the end who’s the real patsy…our gang of unionized state employees who show up at the bargaining table every two years breathlessly gushing, “is that a cowlick or are you just happy to see me?”
Eeyore “the ass sore” state employee