Tuesday, January 27, 2009

House votes to freeze some state workers' pay

HELENA – The state House of Representatives voted 63-37 today to freeze many state employees' salaries for the next two years while offering a slight raise in health care benefits.

“This bill is a realistic plan for the time we are in,” said House Bill 13’s sponsor Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena. “Hard times make for hard choices, folks.”

The bill would keep most executive branch employees’ salaries at their current level, but it would provide a one-time payment of $450 to any full-time employee making $45,000 or less.

HB 13 also provides a $53 increase in the state’s contribution to each employee’s health-care benefits plan. Rep. Ray Hawk, R-Florence, said he would not support the bill because the benefit increase will be too expensive. “This really amounts to an 8 percent pay increase,” Hawk said.

All told, the pay plan carries a $32.5 million price tag.

HB 13 was endorsed by three unions representing nearly 11,000 executive branch employees: the Montana Public Employees Association, the Montana Educators Association and Montana Federation of Teachers, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Earlier in the session, Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Lt. Gov. John Bohlinger and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch also agreed to freeze their pay. State Auditor Monica Lindeen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau said they would donate their raises to charity.

The bill does not apply to university system, legislative or judicial employees. A final vote on the bill is pending.

-by CNS correspondent Molly Priddy

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