Schweitzer Settles on Raise for State Workers

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – Gov. Brian Schweitzer said Wednesday that state workers will get a four percent raise over the next two-year budget period under a proposed deal with employee unions.

“I think it’s a fair deal for the state of Montana,” Schweitzer said. “It was a tough negotiation.”

But the first pay raise the workers have seen in two years may not be enough to cover anticipated increases in health insurance costs that they will also face.

Union leaders, who early on made it clear that they wouldn’t settle for another pay freeze, said they are encouraging their members to approve the proposal. After that, it would go to the Legislature early next year for approval.

The plan calls for a 1 percent raise in January of 2012 and a 3 percent raise in January of 2013. The deal covers a budget period that starts in July of 2011 and ends in June of 2013.

“I think this will be well received by our membership given they haven’t had a pay raise in two years,” said Quinton Nyman, executive director of the Montana Public Employees Association.

The deal will go to a Legislature where Republicans hold a commanding 68 of 100 House seats and 28 of 50 Senate seats. Union leaders said they don’t know what the lawmakers will do with the deal.

“I am little nervous about it based on the composition of the Legislature,” Nyman said. “Clearly there is some sort of agenda there against public employees, and I am concerned that will be some sort of factor in this.”

Schweitzer said a modest pay increase was needed to retain state employees at a time when the work force has faced “vacancy savings,” where many jobs are not filled when a worker leaves.

The governor’s office said the pay increases would cost about $22 million over the budget period.

State Sen. Dave Lewis, who is proposing legislation aimed at curtailing higher salaries for state employees, said he wants to know where the governor will find the money for the raises at a time when many feel budget cuts are needed in order to balance the books.

“I don’t know how they are going to pay for it, that’s what I am interested in,” Lewis said. “Where is the money coming from?”

Schweitzer releases his full budget on Monday.

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