Done...just begun

Our Point of View
by MEA-MFT President Eric Feaver

May-June 2013

When the 2013 Legislature came to town, we had a handful of core value objectives.

Proactively, we sought to:

• Secure a 5% increase each year of the coming biennium in state employee base pay,

• Amortize and save public employee retirement pensions,

• Increase state funding of k-higher education, and

• Bond-to-build capital construction in the Montana University System and Historical Society.

Reactively, we were determined to defend:

• Public and private sector workers’ right to organize and bargain collectively from anti-union

• Public schools from libertarian, sectarian, and profit-taking efforts to privatize and fracture if not destroy our social compact, and

• Voter rights from politicos still unhappy about the last election.

So, given these objectives, how well did we do?

Darned well...but we are not done yet. 
Proactive:  The legislature cut millions out of the appropriation intended to fund 5/5 for the coming biennium starting July 1. And it inserted squirrelly language in the authorizing bill, HB 13, urging the governor and presumably us to take the available dollars and correct salary inequities the 2011 Legislature created when it refused to pass a pay plan. Hmmm.

Interesting how some legislators yammer hard about how they are not at the bargaining table with us...but they never propose legislation to make that happen. Instead they direct the governor to do it...and then they decide to do what they want with legal impunity.

Whatever, with dollars appropriated in HB 13 and other funding bills, we can bargain 5 and 5 with the governor
one way or another and then bargain additional dollars with state agencies to address ugly salary inequities.

We amortized and saved the Teachers Retirement and Public Employee Retirement Systems. But in the process we took an unavoidable hit. Legislators we needed to build a majority to secure our pensions were determined to truncate and delay if not eliminate guaranteed annual benefit adjustments. So, we did what we had to do to pass our retirement bills—HBs 377 and 454. Soon we will litigate to recover our GABA losses. We stand on solid legal ground here, but like all court appeals, they don’t happen in a nanosecond and nothing is ever 100% certain.

SB 175 not only funded k-12 better than any bill ever has, it united the Montana public education community as never before. And it may have been the catalyst to confront and defeat the Tea Party gang in the legislature. But 175 has issues the governor and education community must address over the biennium.

As for state funding of the Montana University System, we have so much work to do.

For the second session in a row, legislators chose not to bond to build and create jobs. But the legislature did agree to pay cash for certain university system construction projects. Not as broadly as we had hoped...and once again, legislators eliminated new building at the Montana Historical Society.

Reactive: Throughout the 2012 election season, we heard plenty of anti-union Tea Party rhetoric. But the election of Governor Steve Bullock over a Scott Walker wannabe chilled the palaver. We saw only one bill introduced to harm unions, and it passed away without a whimper.

Unfortunately, the dark-money-funded anti-public school gang, primarily represented by the Montana Family Foundation, was hard at work. We suffered seven public school privatization bills: three pay voucher bills, two charter school bills, and two tax credit bills — all peas from the same pod. Each mandated taxpayers pay for the privatization of our neighborhood, state and locally funded and governed public schools.

Working with Republican and Democratic legislators and our partners in the entire public education community, we killed six of these bills. Unfortunately, last-minute deal making passed the one remaining tax credit bill — SB 81 — onto the governor for his veto. Thank you, Governor Bullock.

Finally and unfortunately, the governor cannot veto legislative referenda. Consequently, majority Republican Party legislators concluded that voters in the November 2014 general election will decide if eligible citizens thereafter should be able to register and vote on Election Day...and if primary elections should be won by the top two vote recipients regardless of party affiliation. We will hear a lot about these two referenda as time marches on. We oppose them both.

Thanks: Special thanks to all: members, leaders, staff, partners across the political, education, and union spectrum who value the folks who do the work that matters and the work they do.