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.

TGTJ

‘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.

TGTJ

‘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.

TGTJ

‘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.

TGTJ

‘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.

TGTJ

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

 

 

$3000 Tax Payer Dollars

5360fcca83b0d-image1If you listen close you can hear Senator Dee Brown’s nails on a chalkboard voice cackling about the spending of tax payer dollars.  Well, except in this case since her fellow teacher, Elsie, is spending those dollars.  So just what does $3000 buy Arntzen anyway?

Last week the Lee papers ran a story about the cost of the ‘investigation’ with their usual repetition of details.  But it does raise a few questions. Why does Arntzen need to hire a human resources consultant to review policies and procedures if OPI already has a human resources manager on staff?  And, if the OPI has access to additional human resource support through the Department of Administration why is she paying an outside firm to do the same work she could get for free from DOA?  Questions that wouldn’t need to be asked in any other scenario since it would be logical to use the knowledge of in-house resources.

Jim Kerins’ and CMS have made a living off state government dating back some twenty years now and certainly far more than a measly $3000 dollars.  Having said that, it’s rather strange that CMS would take on this project.  It’s short term, cheap and in one sense, risky.  Kerins’ has managed to thread the political needle for quite some time by taking on projects with the state that don’t result in any kind of political agenda. Until now.  This time his work will either support the allegations of an OPI leader who clearly has a political agenda or find a few misfiled documents.  A failed witch hunt.

Arntzen ran for office on what she portrayed as the sins of past Democratic leadership.  Unfortunately, when she finally walked into the buildings that house OPI for the first time she found no smoking guns or dead rats.  Instead she discovered an underfunded facility and underpaid staff.  Bear in mind, she has some responsibility in that given her voting sam_spade1record and lack of support for both public education and government agencies, to include OPI.

So Kerins’ has taken on a $3000 project that’s set to end next week on the 28th.  We’re all on the edge of our seats wondering what his investigation/review will reveal.  And at this point, Kerins’ is going to have to find something to feed Elsie.  She’s made a spectacle herself and continued missteps are something $3000 won’t cover up.  One thing Kerins’ should remember when he hands Arntzen that smoking gun, his fingerprints will be on it too.

TGTJ

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

 

Go West Betsy DeVos, Go West

Yesterday Superintendent Elsie Arntzen  invited the U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos to visit Montana.  Nothing surprising here and nothing new at all.  To Arntzen’s credit it’s something she should be doing.  It’s good for Elsie to take a step with the right foot for once given the past couple of weeks she’s had, even though she’s only been in office a few weeks.  So why would this rise to the level of yet another post?  Click the link, read it, read it twice.  It’ll take a couple of times to sift through the poor writing.

Of its several oddities is her reference to Montana as a ‘frontier’ state and having frontier-school‘frontier schools’.  Do you suppose she’s referencing some old map that shows the region as a frontier or is Elsie trying to lure DeVos out on a long train ride and then a stagecoach trip from Havre to Helena?  Perhaps DeVos will have the good fortune to shoot a few buffalo from the window of the train as it passes a grazing heard.  Or it could be that Arntzen is just trying to personify a mystique from days of old now that Montana has finally broken into the current century with indoor plumbing, electricity, cable TV, and grizzly bear free schools!

So really, Arntzen deserves a gold star for getting her letter out.  She wants to showcase her office and Montana’s ‘frontier’ schools.  Now comes the oddity from yet another email tip.

tharp

Tim Tharp, Interim Deputy Superintendent sent out an email to all staff at OPI letting them know he’d be visiting with them soon to understand how they ‘contribute’ to OPI.  Had the transition gone more smoothly over the last month this would seem like a reasonable gesture.  In reality the new administration has no clue about the day to day functions of OPI and now they need to find out just what they are doing.  Tharp intends to ask five simple questions and get to know each OPI employee in just five minutes; sort of like six minute abs.  One can only imagine the questions:  ‘What is your quest?’ ‘What is the wind velocity of an African Swallow?’ ‘If you were a tree, what kind of a tree would you be?’ ‘Hammer or nail?’ ‘X-ray vision or gills?’. How does Arntzen plan to bring Devos up to speed about education in Montana when she truly doesn’t know?  Perhaps that’s really a rhetorical question since it insinuates that DeVos knows something about education as well.  Maybe together using DeVos’ twitter pencil they can figure out the three “R’s” of education.

Fun Family Feud question:  What do Arntzen and DeVos have in common?  Survey says…A vote from Steve Daines!

TGTJ

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

 

OPI’s Investigation That Isn’t

First it was an investigation, then it wasn’t, now it is?  This afternoon’s email brought a tip showing that Jim Kerins and CMS have ineed been retained by Elsie Arntzen regarding student proficiency reporting.  Kerins began contacting OPI staff via email yesterday morning to introduce himself as a ‘Human Resources Consultant’ and explain the general objectives of his ‘investigation’.

screen-shot-2017-02-09-at-1-54-25-pm

Are you confused as to what a Human Resources company knows about student medieval-torture-granger1proficiency?  You should be.  Maybe Elsie knows something about them that the rest of us don’t. Nothing to worry about here for the OPI staff though, Kerins assures anonymity through a very complex numbering system based on personal recordings in his office or if they so choose, the Principal’s office.   And then there’s Kerins potential methods of information extraction: the rack, the iron maiden, hot coals, read one of Elsie’s speeches?

In the words of Paul Harvey, ‘Stand by for news’….

TGTJ

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

 

 

 

The Silence of the Whistleblower

Representative Kirk Wagoner has either found a conscience or is carrying on the work that shooting_rifle_gun__pd_Greg Gianforte proposed when he announced he’d create an office of ‘Government Accountability’.  Two of Wagoner’s seven bills this session are written to increase protections for state employees, also known as ‘whistleblower’ bills.  Seems reasonable until you take a look at his record and then the idea that there’s probably an agenda behind the two bills.

Wagoner earned an unimpressive 14% from the Montana AFL-CIO for the 2015 session.  To earn a 14% he only had to vote ‘Right’ on two bills which really doesn’t point anyone in the direction of a pro-worker representative.   For example, Wagoner voted ‘Wrong’ by voting AGAINST the state employee pay plan when the House held a blast vote to bring it out of committee.  Just twenty minutes later he voted ‘Wrong’ again when he voted FOR Representative Art Wittich’s Right to Work bill in a second House blast vote.  Hardly the indicators of a legislator who’s chief concern is the welfare of the many state employees in his district.

House Bills 202 and 208 provide for protections for state employees who believe they are on to corruption they’ve uncovered in the work place.  By no means is this meant to insinuate that it doesn’t happen.  The problem is that Wagoner was only able to produce one, yes one, former state employee who may, or may not have, lost their job after having ‘blown the whistle’.  Exhibit A,  Carol Bondy ,is currently exercising her right to challenge her firing which she believes took place with out cause.  Bondy also referenced a subordinate who was terminated but is represented by a union and filed a grievance.  It’s important to point out that Wagoner mentioned that employees represented by a union have these protections already but that a small percentage of state employees belong to a union.  No doubt the unions view their over 60% state employee membership as small considering they would much rather be representing 90%.

Of course there’s more to a story like this so here are some dots to try to connect.

Bondy may or may not have passed information on to Representative Tom Bernett and others around the time of the Medicade expansion efforts in the 2105 session.

Tom Bernett was the subject of a 2012 campaign complaint alleging he had illegallyth5 coordinated with American Traditions Partnership.

Bondy is being represented by James Brown. James Brown represented American Traditions Partnership in 2012.

The activities of American Traditions Partnership in 2012 were the basis of SB 289 to reform Montana’s campaign finance laws.  Wagoner, of course,  voted against that bill.

Or maybe none of those dots connect and it’s all just coincidence.

Wagoner’s sudden concern for state employees is a complete departure from his past record and alliances.  It’s unfortunate that a handful of Democrats have been duped into believing his efforts are sincere when in reality this is nothing more than a shot at the Governor and his administration.  It would seem high time for the D’s in the House and Senate to circle the wagons and protect their own.

Finally, there’s an oddity here.  During the 2015 session Wagoner championed gun silencer bills.  In 2017 he’s carrying whistleblower bills.  Can’t wait to see his 2019 theme, if we are all so lucky to be graced once more with his presence.

TGTJ

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

 

The Doña Quixote of the 65th Legislative Assembly

don-quijote-de-la-mancha-1024x678There is a knight errant who stalks the halls of the 65th Legislative Assembly wielding a handful of bills that legislative pundits have labeled dead on arrival.  Four of her bills have already been tabled in committee lending credence to the claims made by the doubters of Representative Mary Ann Dunwell (HD 84).  In the vaunted chambers of the “Peoples’ House,” it does not take long to get the impression that Representative Dunwell is the Doña Quixote of the legislature tilting at windmills others give a wide birth: HB 215 revise oil and gas tax laws – tabled in committee; HB 169 raise the minimum wage in Montana – tabled in committee; HB 275 expanded safety standards for workplace health and safety for public employees – tabled in committee; HB 210 revise liquor laws clarifying distance requirements with respect to schools – tabled in committee.  And then there were two.

Doña Quixote has not given up on her last two bills. HB 309 revises housing laws for disabled and criminally convicted individuals.  Doesn’t sound like a real barn burner for the Republican majority but I’m sure the left of left, you know those who helped shut down the Montana Development Center in Boulder last session, love it and it does sound noble.  But let’s be honest it is the proverbial snowball pitched into the realm of the original Great Satan.  And then there was one.

don-quixoteHB 341 has all the earmarks of a special interest bill considering the Doña Dunwell is a state employee.  As such, revising the travel expenses and per diem for state employees seems somewhat self-serving, but let’s peel that back a bit like an onion.  The current rate for in-state and out-of-state travel were set by HB 74 carried by Representative Gay Ann Masolo in 1997. 1997!   Five bucks for breakfast six for lunch and twelve for dinner and if you go beyond the borders of Montana hang onto your hat…eleven for breakfast twelve for lunch and a whopping twenty-three for dinner.  BRING ON THE FEAST!  Are your eyes watering yet?  And then there were none.

Let’s not be too hasty about brushing aside our Doña Quixote. Representative Dunwell might seem a bit naïve bringing bills of this stripe to the legislature especially when her party is the minority, but neither does she deserve derision from those in both parties, but what is particularly galling is snickering from the House of Labor who seemed to have forgotten what it’s like to rise up “in dubious battle.”  Oh don’t get me wrong they haven’t lost the ability to act the martyr but over the last four decades they have forgotten that martyrs suffer in their dying for the cause.  I can already hear the howls from The Gibraltar, “get thee behind me you collective bargaining denier!”   In the meantime, Representative Dunwell, Doña Quixote, fights the fight against incredible odds, aware or not, that the jaded on both sides of the aisle silently curse themselves for their lack of courage in dubious battle.

T-Bone Slim – “Wherever you find injustice, the proper form of politeness is attack.”