When the legislature comes to town...

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

Nov-Dec 2010

When the legislature comes to town January 3, we will support the governor’s budget.


The governor’s budget

The governor’s budget (1) sustains k-12 basic and per pupil entitlements and special education funding, (2) adds back ‘at risk’ dollars lost in the last session, (3) creates a new (albeit controversial) revenue account ‘Teach Montana’ to fund the $77 million quality educator payment, and (4) funds the Montana Digital Academy. In addition, the governor’s budget (5) boosts state funding of the university system…and of course (6) funds the state employee pay plan we negotiated with the governor. For the record, university faculty salary settlements typically track state employee salary settlements.


The governor’s budget is our starting point.


Folks – our members included - can disagree as to how he would do things…but one way or another we must do what we can to see that the programs, services, and people the governor wants funded get funded at levels he supports. These are our programs and services. These are our jobs.  These are our people. These are our values on the budget table.


The governor has given us the opportunity to advocate for what we do and why. We must seize that opportunity as our own. Those who reject the governor’s funding scheme should propose one of their own…not explicitly or implicitly acquiesce to less: less k-12 and university funding…less state employee pay…less revenue and spending adequacy and equity.  


The rest of our proactive agenda

In addition to what the governor has proposed, we will cause bills to be introduced that will (1) launch state funding of Head Start, (2) qualify k-12 school classified employees for unemployment compensation, (3) eliminate 25-year retirement in TRS while increasing to 2% the retirement multiplier at 30 years creditable service, (4) capture excess county retirement reserves to invest in our k-12 public school retirement systems, (5) increase the state’s contribution to the university faculty defined contribution retirement plan, and (6) create a statewide mandatory school employee health insurance risk pool.


These are long-term MEA-MFT legislative objectives, just as were the quality educator payment, loan repayment program, and full-time kindergarten…things we spent years lobbying one legislature after another before final adoption. If not in this session, we will achieve these things in time. They have value…and we are persistent. 


There be monsters

Unfortunately, in addition to defending the governor’s budget I anticipate a ramped up need to defend our interests from bad ideas such as (1) tax credits to fund private and sectarian schools, (2) anybody-can-teach licensure, (3) ‘right-to-work,’ (4) partial or full repeal of our minimum wage law, (5) significant reduction in the value of our defined benefit retirement systems, (6) divestment of the board of regents and board of public education of their constitutional authority, (7) a cap on state employee pay, (8) prohibition of union involvement in electoral politics and ballot issue government, and (9) a stream of tax cuts that would cripple state revenues and exacerbate existing taxpayer inequities.


January 3, the legislature comes to town.


Wanda Grinde

We lost good legislators and would-be legislators in the last election. Among these are friends, political allies, and MEA-MFT member/leaders like Jill Cohenour and John Fleming. We were looking forward to what Willis Curdy and Sheila Hogan could bring to the table. Our most troubling loss, however, was Wanda Grinde. Wanda chaired the 2009 House Education Committee with an even, friendly, open hand. But her greatest contribution was the Montana Digital Academy. We have rarely seen a legislator work harder on a new program in a time of scarcity and win -- a win that is already adding value to public education access and opportunity across our state. Wanda has lost and won before. May she someday soon win again and return to the Montana state legislature.