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Gianforte-backed pay increase for state employees passes House

by Arren Kimbel-Sannit Daily Montanan
| January 28, 2021 3:00 PM

A bipartisan coalition of lawmakers in the Montana House approved a plan Thursday that would raise the pay of state employees by 55 cents per hour beginning in the 2023 fiscal year.

The bill, the result of negotiations between former Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, and public sector unions, would hold constant public employee pay during the next fiscal year before enacting a slight raise in the second half of the biennium. It would also create a new 0.5% bonus for state employees whose tenure extends beyond 25 years.

The bill passed the second reading and will need one more reading in the House before moving to Senate.

Although negotiations on the proposal began in the previous administration, Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, has said he supports the plan, which was introduced in the House Appropriations Committee at the beginning of the legislative session.

Some Republicans protested, saying they could not justify their constituents an increase in public employee pay while the state’s private sector continues to function at a diminished capacity.

“This is a gross injustice to working, private sector employees in Montana,” said Rep. Brad Tschida, R-Missoula. “Any Republican who votes for this does so at their own peril.”

Several members of the House GOP’s so-called “Solutions Caucus,” backed the plan, including Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Llew Jones, R-Conrad. He said it’s important to stand with the governor, and that state employees have no control over the economic situation in the private sector.

“They are just people. We’re holding state employees accountable for decisions above their pay grade,” he said.

The bill passed ultimately passed 65-35.