Too Many Overpaid State Workers?

One blogger noted this dialogue between Gov Brian Schweitzer (D-MT) and Fox News’ Neil Cavuto:

SCHWEITZER: I think it’s great to cut budgets. I’ve cut everything you could possibly cut in Montana, I’ve cut. And that’s why we have money in the bank. But I guess my concern is, if you consider a governor a CEO, like a CEO of a corporation, and we are. We have between 10,000 and 500,000 people working for us depending on what state we’re in. Can you imagine a new CEO at IBM or General Electric or Boeing, a few days after they’ve been selected as the CEO, announcing to the world that all of the people that work here are overpaid and underworked, and we’re going to decrease their salary and decrease their benefits. What would be the morale?

CAVUTO: Yeah I can, actually, many of them have done just that. They’ve cut pay, they cut positions, a lot of them do just that.

SCHWEITZER: You do that, I’ve done that. But what you do is, you say look, we’re in this together. In order for us to be successful globally, we’re all going to have to do this together. But you don’t point fingers at your workers and say listen, you’re not doing your job. Well yeah they are doing their job.

CAVUTO: You can say you have too many workers, right? You can say you have a lot of overpaid workers.

SCHWEITZER: Absolutely.

KXLH: Legislature’s Half Way Point

Republican leadership says they remain committed to the goal of creating jobs, and touted bills that reduce the cost of doing business, revise the Montana Environmental Policy Act, and eliminate the business equipment tax.

MT State Senator Dave Lewis (R-Helena) said, “Our plan is to balance the spending in the next biennium with the revenue in the next biennium. Both the President and the Speaker have said we’re going to leave within our means.”

The Missoulian had this for an online headline: “UM roundtable: Lot of time wasted in first half of Montana Legislature

You may recall that Missoula County listed “Mail-In Ballots” as their number one legislative priority, and now some of their area legislators are complaining that time has been wasted during the legislative session.  (Debating mail-in ballots perhaps?)

All this, as the old Smurfitt-Stone plant is being scrapped, and those jobs will likely never return.

An official with Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. says the company’s shuttered Frenchtown paper mill will be sold for scrap.

Ron Megna, assistant general counsel for Smurfit, told the Missoulian on Friday the company has a signed purchase agreement and is removing some of the equipment from the mill. The rest will be sold to MLR Investments LLC, which is an affiliate of Ralston Investments of Portland, Ore.

Senate Pres. Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo) had this as the Legislature adjourned for the transmittal break:

Now at the halfway mark of the 62nd legislature, it’s been frustrating to read the daily news coverage.  More news seems to be focused on social issue bills than on bills to improve the business climate and create jobs.  I realize, of course, that these articles are important to many people, but the problem is that the general public may be under the false impression that social issues have taken precedence over bills to spur economic recovery.

Jobs are our primary objective this session, especially those in the private sector. 

MEPA:  The Montana Environmental Protection Act oversees the permitting process on the development of natural resources.  In the past, the mining and timber industries were two of the most prosperous in the state.   Our unions enjoyed good paying jobs, and entrepreneurs and other businesses looked to Montana as a place of opportunity.  The current legal and regulatory environment serves to obstruct, not permit, development in Montana.  A major part of this anti-development atmosphere resides in the fact that MEPA has been interpreted and enforced as authoritative rule, rather than a procedural guideline.

Rep. Kris Hansen had this in The Havre Daily News:

She said how much success the Republican majority sees may still rely on the governor’s veto.

“We swept into the Legislature with lots and lots of Republicans this time, and we’re trying to do those things that we told you we would do, but we still have a governor who may or may not support those things, ” she said.

Chuck Johnson reports on the Gov’s VETO Brand:

Inspired by a recent editorial cartoon, Gov. Brian Schweitzer has registered an ornamental brand with the state Livestock Department that says “VETO.”

A cartoon by staff artist Denny Lester in Sunday’s Helena Independent Record shows the Democratic governor holding a branding iron that says “VETO” as he prepares to brand some calves depicting controversial Republican bills. Schweitzer’s border collie, Jag, stands ready to herd the cattle.

MEPA Bills, others

A quartet of bills to revamp and rewrite Montana’s environmental and mining laws rolled through the state Senate Wednesday, as majority Republicans said it’s time to pave the way for new natural-resource jobs.

“They want a predictable process … to find a way so that we actually can go out and build these big projects,” Sen. Bruce Tutvedt, R-Kalispell, said of the state’s natural-resource industries, which support the measures. “That’s what we need to do.”

On mostly party-line votes with Republicans in favor — although a few senators crossed party lines both for and against — the Senate endorsed two bills that narrow the scope of the state’s signature environmental law, the Montana Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).

NBC Montana: Gov Criticizes Lawmakers

Schweitzer told NBC Montana leaders shouldn’t be spending time debating whether the U.S. should be in the U.N. or whether a county sheriff should trump a federal law enforcement officer. Schweitzer says, “It’s 44 wasted days. They’ve wasted about $2 million of taxpayer money and really wasted the time of the people of Montana. They’ve debated whether we can hunt with spears or whether you should have a silencer on your rifle if it takes you 19 shots to shoot an elk.”

Jobs Still the Top Issue at the Legislature

By Jon Bennion, Montana Chamber of Commerce

When the Legislature came to town in early January, it seemed clear that jobs would be the number one issue of the session. Now that the Legislature has used up half of its 90 days, this is a good time to reflect on how the people’s branch is doing on that key issue.

In just two months, the Legislature has made good progress on delivering positive legislation targeted to help with the creation of good-paying jobs. Sure, there are some sensational bills on other issues that get a lot of media attention, but there are also several bills that encourage businesses to expand, hire new workers, and grow our state’s economy.

First and foremost, the Legislature has made progress on addressing one of the top job-killer problems in the state: workers’ compensation costs. HB 334 (Reichner – Bigfork) has passed out of the House and awaits action by the Senate. Legislators in both parties are working together to develop a compromise bill that can get signed into law. If we want Montana to be a great place to work and do business, we must reform our costly work comp system.

Second, after hearing from Montana’s entrepreneurs on January 8th, the Legislature has moved forward two bills aimed at ensuring government doesn’t burden small businesses with unnecessary regulation or new laws. HB 100 (Vance – Belgrade) and SB 201 (Walker – Billings) say state government needs to look at impacts to small businesses before new laws are passed during the session or when new rules are written during the interim.

In addition, bills are moving through the process to address employer concerns about the use of medical marijuana in the workplace. Much attention has been placed on the House’s vote to repeal the law, but there are several more bills aimed at increasing regulation and oversight for medical marijuana. HB 43 (MacLaren – Victor) clarifies the law to ensure that employers have the right to make important business decisions regarding an employee’s use of medical marijuana.

Another area that has received attention is the issue of legal reform. When Montana improves it’s legal climate, it also improves its business climate. A number of tort reform bills are moving forward in the 62nd Legislature: reforms to pre/post-judgment interest rates, establishment of appeal bond caps, and medical malpractice reform to bring down the cost of healthcare. 

In response to the overwhelming support for increased responsible resource development, the Senate has acted on two bills that will create jobs and add more revenue in the future for schools. SB 233 (Keane – Butte) and SB 317 (Vincent – Libby) attempt to remove the ability of obstructionist environmentalists from filing frivolous lawsuits to block responsible development. If Montana were to reach its full potential in this arena, we would no longer have to deal with budget cuts and finding money for schools.

The second half of the session is often reserved more for budget and tax issues, so we look forward to working with legislators in both parties to reduce the business equipment tax, make the tax code simpler for businesses and individuals, and keeping other taxes low during this recovery. 

These are just a few examples of the good pro-jobs bills and ideas moving forward in Helena. We are encouraged by the progress we see on many key proposals this session that will help businesses create jobs and grow our state’s economy. While there may be proposals that stray from the top issue of job creation, know that the Legislature is also moving forward good legislation as well. Contact your legislator soon to encourage them to finish the job and help get Montanans back to work.

Jon Bennion is the Government Relations Director for the Montana Chamber of Commerce

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