Worry and Opportunity - 2015 legislature

Our Point of View
by MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver
December 2014

Last November’s legislative elections produced far less than what we wanted: more partisan balance in the state legislature. Despite efforts to elect moderate Republicans as well as progressive Democrats, we ended up with a legislature, especially a House of Representatives, that may be more hard core tea party than ever.

Chilling to consider the 2015 House Education Committee will be chaired and vice chaired by Montana Family Foundation favorites with limited and no legislative experience respectively but undeniable antipathy for public education along with a born-again determination to privatize for God and profit. Long, long gone are those legislative days Republicans Ralph Eudaily and Earl Lory chaired and vice chaired the House Education Committee. Bless them both as they roll over in their graves.

There is no reason to believe right now that we can stop a tax credit, pay voucher, or charter school bill in this committee. And likely not in the full House. But we will try.

Every bit as chilling to consider is the 2015 House Appropriations Committee chaired and vice chaired by legislators with little use for public schools and good government.

This is not to say we now wax enthusiastic about the 2015 Senate. But along with dragons that wait therein (e.g. some who would revisit efforts to end public employee pensions, some who would diminish the constitutional authority of the board of public education, some who would turn our schools into armed camps), the Senate enjoys some quality legislators less interested in drowning government in a bathtub and killing public schools. Or so we think.

It is enough to say the 2015 legislature challenges all who believe in and support good government, quality public schools, the folks who do work that matters therein, and the social compact to which this union is morally committed.

So, despite the odds, we have an agenda to pursue, an agenda that we could achieve, given a political break or two…and Governor Steve Bullock. Yes, our excellent pro-government, pro-public schools governor who is dedicated to doing the best he can for our state and ALL our citizens…and at a minimum doing no harm.

State employee pay plan. Along with fellow unionists from MPEA and AFSCME we negotiated with the governor a 50 cent hourly increase each year of the 2017 biennium. Should be a no brainer. It is exactly what legislative leaders in the past two sessions told us they wanted to see: a modest, across the board, same dollar pay increase for all executive branch employees.

Early Edge. Governor Bullock has it right. This state spends almost nothing on pre-k education. Absurd…and everyone knows it. Regardless, for those school districts that don’t want to move into early childhood education, they won’t have to. And for those parents who don’t want to send their children to public school at age 4, they won’t have to. My guess is, however, “if we build it, they will come.” Early Edge is not a Hardin jail story. It’s past time for legislators to get on board with quality public schools for all our children.

Medicaid Expansion. Why is this an issue? Why in the world would any legislator deny health care benefits to any resident of our state? Health care in large part already paid for by our federal taxes? Why would any legislator stand by and watch small town clinics close down because they can no longer afford to provide health care for those who have little or no money to pay? Why would any legislator endorse cost shifting from those who can’t purchase health care to those who can? And how could any legislator read without weeping of yet another bake sale to pay the health care costs of some family in need but without health insurance?

Is it true, the tea party has no heart?

Build Montana. Help me understand why the Montana state legislature would continue to fail to invest in vital infrastructure repair and development from the Bakken to Whitefish? Let’s run our government like a business. And in so doing provide a modern home for our world class Historical Society.

Go here—http://www.leg.mt.gov/css/sessions/64th/default.asp — follow your legislator. Be informed. It’s your duty.

[You can also follow legislative action and our analysis here on the MEA-MFT web site]