A conference call was held last Friday by the Legislative Council Subcommittee on Legislator Compensation to talk about options for raising their own pay. This Committee is Chaired by none other than Senator Fred Thomas, who deregulated the Montana Power Company leading to its bankruptcy, costing Montanans millions in lost pensions, retirement funds, thousands of jobs and raised everyone’s energy costs significantly.
In 2017, Senator Thomas personally fabricated the legislature’s revenue estimate, by over $100 million, causing a budget deficit and the special session. Thomas was then instrumental in cutting the state budget and voted to make every temporary cut permanent—preventing them from being backfilled by Governor Bullock. Now, he and his fellow Republicans want to give themselves a pay raise for a job well done.
One of the proposals this Committee is reviewing is increasing legislators daily rate from $10.33 an hour to $18.69 an hour. That is an 80% increase in their per hour rate. Republicans argue this is the average rate of pay for working Montanans. Last time I checked, the minimum wage in Montana was about $8.30 an hour. Maybe we should increase the minimum wage by 80% to $15 an hour and actually help working families, rather than paying Republicans more to hurt them.
To pay for this 80% increase, Fred Thomas and Republicans want to eliminate the number of legislative seats from 50 senators to 40 and 100 representatives to 80. Let that sink in for a moment. Republicans are actually proposing to take away representation from Montanans—fundamentally altering our state democracy—just so they can pay themselves more. Shrinking the legislature by this much would increase each district by 1/3. Legislative districts would be larger by area and by population. Your vote and representation in Helena would be worthless if Republicans can get away with this scam.
The truth is, Republicans do not care about your right to participate in government, they don’t want you to contact them with issues or ideas, they want you to be silent. They want larger legislative districts—gerrymandered into safe Republicans seats—so they can be even less accountable to the voters. Consolidation of power and a pay raise, not bad.
Their proposal comes after Republicans already voted during the 2017 legislative session to increase their compensation by 15% or about $12 million. Governor Bullock vetoed this slap in the face to Montanans, but Republicans overrode his veto to keep their slush fund full.
During the Committee’s phone call today, the idea was brought up to use this money for expenses other that Constituent work which it can only be used for. Republicans are now looking to use their pay increase to campaign on the public’s dime. Sounds a lot like what Matt Rosendale and Secretary Stapleton are already doing with our tax dollars. It was also made clear on the call that the Commissioner of Political Practices does not have authority to look into the use of these funds. How convenient.
During the Special Session, not one Republican came forward with the idea to give up their $12 million dollar pay raise. Instead, they tried to force Governor Bullock to make a deal with CoreCivic, an out-of-state Private Prison, for roughly the same amount.
As the Legislative majority, Republicans increased their pay by $12 million, cut vital services to Montanans, want a payoff from a private prison to offset their pay raises, and are now looking to eliminate your access to elected officials to pay for yet another pay raise.
Every Democratic legislative candidate this fall should be talking about this on the doors, in the papers, and at every committee meeting. Republican’s efforts to undermine our democracy, our rights, and our tax dollars to give themselves pay raises should be made clear to every voter in 2018 and beyond.