Our own Wisconsin?

Our Point of View, By MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver


March-April 2011


Too much tea party testosterone flowed through too many legislator veins during the first half of the 2011 legislature. No question about that, but I am going to comment here about issues directly pertinent to our union.


State pay plan. To date, this legislature has yet to act on HB 13 — the state employee pay plan we negotiated with the governor. HB 13 increases state employee pay 1% effective January 1, 2012, and 3%, effective January 1, 2013. These modest increases in pay — that include no increases in state funding of employee health insurance — come on the heels of a two-year pay freeze…a freeze that helped our state through the darkest fiscal days of the great recession. You would think legislators would have expressed their gratitude by now. 


The money’s there. To date, this legislature has yet to purchase the governor’s revenue estimates. Certain legislative leaders prefer to deny that Montana’s darkest fiscal days of the great recession are over. We are in excellent shape to fund HB 13 and state government and public education at levels the governor has proposed.  The money’s there. If this legislature would rather spend the money on big tax cuts for big business than on HB 13 and vital public programs and services, it should say so out loud for all to hear. But no begging false poverty.


Retirement. To date, this legislature has yet to decide what it wants to do about unfunded liabilities in our public employee defined benefit retirement plans. Two legislators have separately proposed to abandon TRS and PERS, cut them loose from employer and employee contributions, to aimlessly wander an actuarial wilderness, ultimately to fail to pay benefits some time down the road. But what do anarchists and those who already have theirs care about future public employee retirement anyway? There is a budding proposal to increase current as well as future employee contributions to our retirement systems. Hmmm…


Tenure. To date, the senate has decided that teachers can keep their tenure but with seriously truncated due process. I guess we should be grateful that threats to repeal tenure dissipated.  It remains useful to know that as early as 1871 Montana territorial law required school trustees to have “sufficient cause” before dismissing a teacher under contract. In 1895, the Montana Legislature granted teachers protection against unfair dismissal during a school year. In 1913, the legislature dared call it tenure apparently believing that “good teachers could not be procured and retained without the promise of permanence, income security, and academic freedom to teach.” Imagine that, 1913! When tenured teachers sometimes tell me they don’t need tenure, I marvel at how short their memories. Really, how hard is it to remember what it’s like to be without tenure? Ask a non-tenured teacher. It’s a three-year open door to nowhere for no reason whatsoever. Final note: For 100 years no tenured teacher in Montana has taught without it! Might we miss it when it’s gone?


Private schools. To date, this legislature like every legislature since 1993, has suffered bills to divert scarce public resources to private and sectarian schools. Public schools are the people’s schools, the root of our democracy, the promise of our social compact. Public schools teach all God’s children. The legislature has a constitutional obligation to “provide a basic system of free quality public elementary and secondary schools.” And the legislature must “fund and distribute in an equitable manner to the school districts the state’s share of the cost of the basic elementary and secondary school system.”


The legislature has NO constitutional obligation to fund private schools and is constitutionally prohibited from funding sectarian schools, money laundering schemes notwithstanding. 


As for Wisconsin, it does matter who sits in legislative seats. For those who think there is no difference between political parties, please think hard about Wisconsin.


And for those who have not yet thought about the next election…are we only one governor away from Wisconsin? Are we?