“The only thing the legislature has done is raise their own salaries. When I was in the legislature we weren’t worth the $10 a day we were getting then and I don’t think legislators are worth that much now.”
I love that quote from Montana’s 14th Governor, J. Hugo Aronson.
He gave it to a reporter in 1975…or 14 years after he finished up his two terms as governor, and 31 years after he’d finished up his 12 years in both houses of the legislature.
They just don’t make ‘em like that anymore. In fact, the Montana Legislature has fallen quite far since the ‘Galloping Swede’s’ day.
You see, Montana Legislators want to raise their pay by 69%, starting in 2021.
Let’s dig into this issue a bit.
Right now, I think the news around it is becoming partisan. Let’s see if we can find some truths.
#1 How Much is the Pay Raise?
Right now legislators make $25 an hour but they want $33 an hour.
Legislators will lie to you and say they only make $11 an hour, however.
Over at Montana Post, Nathan Kosted broke this down:
- Legislators currently get paid $18,500 over the course of January through April
- That comes out to $25.80 an hour
- Some say legislators only make $11 an hour, but they get $114 a day in per diem
- Legislators want a 69% pay raise
- This would put them up to $270.46 a day
- This amounts to $24,300 over the course of 4 months
- That comes to $33.75 an hour
Legislators currently make 3 times the state's minimum wage, but that's not good enough - they want 4 times as much.
$24,000 for 4 months of work seems a bit much to me, but maybe that's because I only made $17,000 for the whole of last year. Lots of Montanans are just like me.
Kosted goes on to say that this is a GOP idea and that the only way to prevent legislative pay raises is to “elect more Democrats.”
But is this true?
#2 Who is Pushing for the Pay Raise?
The group behind this pay hike idea is the Montana Legislature’s Legislative Council.
The Council was set up in 1957 and consists of a bipartisan group called the “research arm of the legislature.”
One of the Council’s main missions is to “establish personnel and pay policies in order to maintain professional and highly motivated employees.”
In that regard, the Council feels it needs to boost its own pay.
Here are the members of that Council:
- Seth Berglee (R)
- Wylie Galt (R)
- Austin Knudsen (R)
- Ed Buttrey (R)
- Scott Sales (R)
- Fred Thomas (R)
- Jenny Eck (D)
- Shane Morigeau (D)
- Casey Schreiner (D)
- Tom Facey (D)
- JP Pomnichowski (D)
- Jon Sesso (D)
As you can see, we have 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats.
But how do each of those members feel about this pay raise idea?
#3 Legislators Feel More Important Than Other State Workers
Back in April 2017, the Montana Legislature passed SD 294 to raise the pay of state workers by 1% in 2018 and another 1% in 2019.
This comes out to 20 cents extra an hour.
Governor Bullock signed this into law a month later. As state workers, the legislators will also benefit from this raise.
So the legislature gave full-time, year-round state workers a 2% raise…and a 2% raise to themselves as well.
A year later, our very part-time legislature comes back saying 2% was not enough, and it now wants a 69% raise for itself.
That’s wrong. But it’s not only wrong, it’s insulting.
It’s insulting to the workers in this state that actually do the real work…the ones that don’t just dress up pretty for a couple months while listening to the sound of their own voice in the Capitol.
When we look at the members of the Legislative Council, and then look at how those members voted on the 2017 state worker pay raise, we find that:
- Seth Berglee voted against paying state workers more
- Wylie Galt voted against
- Austin Knudsen voted against
All of the Democratic Senators on the Council voted for the pay raise.
So in effect…Republicans voted against paying themselves more last session, while Democrats voted to pay themselves more.
Democrats framed their previous pay hike as a pay increase for state workers, not legislators, despite the fact that it did increase legislator pay.
When it comes to the 69% pay raise, I feel most Democrats will support it…just as they did two years ago.
Sadly, I think most Republicans will support it, too.
#4 The Governor Does Not Support Legislative Pay Raises
Back in February 2017, Governor Steve Bullock vetoed HB 1, which would have boosted legislative pay by 14% for the 2019 session.
The state needs to “live within its means,” he said about the 14% pay raise.
Legislators didn’t get their way, but instead of asking for a smaller raise, they’re going bigger, with a 69% raise.
This is odd, as Bullock wouldn’t even consider a 1.4% pay raise at the time, one that would coincide with inflation.
“In my mind it felt petty,” Republican Nancy Balance said of the veto, and she complained that Bullock had already approved this pay raise idea during the 2015 session.
So again, here’s a Republican that wants to see her own pay go up…and a lot more than she’s voting to give to full-time state workers.
#5 Montana Legislators Get Lots of Benefits
Sometimes we forget all that Montana legislators get for their 4-months-every-2-years-job.
For instance, legislators get:
- $1,500 for an Information Technology Allowance, something that started in 2007. This allows them to purchase “laptops, printers,” and pay for other communications costs.
- $3,000 for constituent services expenses, with an additional $4,000 given to legislators that live in districts that are over 100 square miles.
The $1,500 IT Allowance may have been rolled into that $3,000 constituent stipend, but I’m not quite clear.
What I do know is that legislators feel the $3,000 is not enough…because of the way it’s taxed.
In May the Legislator Compensation subcommittee voted to send the Legislative Council proposals on how to change “how their stipends can be taxed and recorded and meet enforceable ethical standards.”
Sounds to me like they’re going to squeeze every dollar of that stipend out for themselves, while giving as little as possible to the government they themselves continuously complain doesn’t have enough money.
This is not a partisan issue.
Some Democrats want the pay raise, while others do not. Same goes for Republicans – some support it, some oppose it.
Republican, and de-regulation architect – Fred Thomas – says the pay raise should be considered. He claims that “$11 an hour is not probably what people want out of their legislature.”
- Most Montanans are just fine paying the people that cook and prepare their food just $8.30 an hour.
- We have no problem paying the people that clean our toilets $8.30 an hour.
- Most of the time, the people that take care of our kids at daycare aren’t even making $11 an hour. I often see them getting $9 an hour here in Missoula.
Personally, I think cooks and cleaners and daycare teachers have a much bigger impact on my daily life than Helena legislators.
After all, legislators only work 3 months out of a 24-month period.
As we saw, three Republican Council members voted against the last pay raise, while three Democratic Council members voted for it.
Taking it further, we know that HD 67-hopeful, Kristine Menicucci in Butte, asks, “Republican legislators think they should be rewarded with a fiscally irresponsible pay raise?”
This is how this issue will play out: Democrats will latch-onto how ‘fiscally irresponsible’ the pay raise is in the face of the massive budget cuts, while blaming Republicans for pushing the idea.
But like I said, not all Democrats are on the bandwagon.
“We make less than a teenager working a McDonalds,” Jenny Eck said, who sits on the Legislative Council.
So there’s a Democrat – one that quit the legislature earlier this year – that wants the pay raise.
Personally, I think she should go get a job at McDonald’s, considering they pay so good.
Scott Sales, a Republican, is another on the Council that supports the idea. “I think it’s beyond time the legislature is more adequately compensated.”
Sales voted against giving state workers their 2% pay raise, but now he wants 69% more for himself.
I wish there was more public outcry over this, but the truth of the matter is that our local representatives care more about themselves than they do about us. Plus, it’s more important that we spend all our time focusing on Tester and Rosendale…as if those two guys have much impact on our daily lives.
A big problem is that our legislators care more about taking home a few extra dollars than they do about old people that can’t take care of themselves.
This is true for both Democrats and Republicans.
Now might be the time to lower the pay for Montana legislators.
While they complain that they can’t get dedicated and talented people for the pay they get now, I think the people we have in there are wildly out of touch. Most do a terrible job every two years, and the state would be better off without their ‘service.’
Due to the lack of intelligence I see them displaying, I think now’s the time to talk about lowering Montana legislator pay.
Cates-Carney, Corin. “Montana Legislature Considers Pay Increase for Lawmakers.” Montana Public Radio. 4 May 2018. http://www.mtpr.org/post/montana-legislature-considers-pay-increase-lawmakers
Fox, Susan B. “The Difficulty of Setting Legislator Pay.” Montana Legislature. December 2017. https://leg.mt.gov/content/Committees/Administration/Legislative%20Council/2017-18/Meetings/Dec-2017/Difficulty_Setting_Legislator_Pay.pdf
Great Falls Tribune: 5 September 1975.
Kosted, Nathan. “Legislator Pay Raises: Wrong on so Many Levels.” Montana Post. 17 September 2018. https://themontanapost.com/2018/09/17/legislator-pay-raises-wrong-on-so-many-levels/
“Legislative Council Administrative Committee.” The Montana Legislature. Retrieved 18 September 2018. https://leg.mt.gov/css/Committees/Interim/2017-2018/InterimMembership44c8.html?CommitteeID=1068
Menicucci, Kristine. “Montana Legislators want a 69% pay raise?” Menicucci for HD 67. Retrieved 18 September 2018. http://menicucciforhd67.com/index.php/2018/09/14/montana-legislators-want-a-69-pay-raise/
Monares, Freddy. “Governor vetoes 14 percent pay raise for legislators.” Missoula Current. 3 February 2017. https://www.missoulacurrent.com/government/2017/02/montana-legislature-governor-veto-legislator-pay-raise/
“SB 294.” Montana Legislature. Retrieved 18 September 2018. http://laws.leg.mt.gov/legprd/LAW0203W$BSRV.ActionQuery?P_SESS=20171&P_BLTP_BILL_TYP_CD=SB&P_BILL_NO=294&P_BILL_DFT_NO=&P_CHPT_NO=&Z_ACTION=Find&P_ENTY_ID_SEQ2=&P_SBJT_SBJ_CD=&P_ENTY_ID_SEQ=
“State pay plan passes legislature.” MFPE. 28 April 2017. http://www.mea-mft.org/Articles/state_pay_plan_passes_legislature.aspx
Volz, Matt. “Montana lawmakers consider raising their own pay 69 percent.” Helena IR. 11 September 2018. https://helenair.com/news/government-and-politics/montana-lawmakers-drafting-bill-to-raise-their-own-pay/article_9d53f823-9fd4-583b-adaa-c1a80be264db.html