Janna Taylor Montana Senate District 6
Janna Taylor Montana Senate District 6
 

January 24th

My favorite lobbyists, the local 4H members were in Helena last week. Almost every legislator shows up for the 4H breakfast and presentation.

Our payroll is pretty complex. Let me just start with your total state payroll, $1,376,787,312.32. Yes, that is $1.37 billion bucks. The university system is included, so even if we remove their salaries, state payroll is $840 million per year. Half of that money is federal dollars and things like hunting licenses. Remember this is just state employees. You also employ county, city and school workers. Altogether, government is the largest employer in our state. I wish we could pay everyone what they are worth.

Another complicated number is just how many employees do we have? I get numbers from 12,500 and up. The Department of Administration told me that they print more than 16,000 checks per month. That number includes part time, sick leave, vacation, retirement payout and let me tell you about health insurance.

For many years you might have heard that state employees did not get a raise. Instead, the employee unions negotiated increases in health insurance. In 2005 the state paid $506 per month per employee health insurance. The current Governor's proposal for 2017 is $1054 per month! This money is better than a raise because it is not taxed. Obamacare might just tax this "Cadillac" plan in the future.

Before I go any farther, I better tell you my salary. Your legislators earn $82.64 per day. Not bad for a three hour Saturday, but only $7.52 per hour for an 11 hour day. And we have lots of those. We do get expense money during the session.

We also can opt in for the health insurance and retirement. And I am now eligible for Medicare as well! I estimate that I will earn $13,000 in salary and expenses in each of the next two years. Your legislators do not serve for the money. Many lose money when they are not home at their jobs. That is why many of us are retired.

There are other benefits state employees receive. We pay about 10% of the salary in retirement. The employee puts in less. The new state health clinics are free for state employees and their dependents. These are located in Helena, Billings, Miles City, and Missoula. There is not even the $15.00 co-pay requirement.

The agency told us that 64% of state employees use the new clinics. I do not think it is fair to the other 36% that have to pay the co-pay. The agency's rationale was that more people would use the clinics and become healthier.

Last session the Governor's budget asked for a 5% raise in each of the next two years for state employees. State agencies gave longevity and reclassification increases of $54 million. And there was the usual health insurance increase.

The legislature was concerned about the lower paid employees and the large number of unfilled correction officer jobs. So, we gave the governor the cash for 3% for each year and asked that he use the money for those things.

A 5% increase in a top dollar job, say $100,000 is $5,000 dollars and only $1,750 for a $35,000 a year job. The governor chose to give the 3% to all and by delaying the next year increase several months; he was able to give a 5% increase the second year. So, now when we start this new budget, the total payroll is much higher than we expected. Your legislature did not plan for this 8% increase. Now the new proposed pay plan calls for $.50 per hour for all employees.

Thanks for all the calls and comments. Leave me a message at 406-444-4800. My cell is 253-8766, but it is usually off. My email is sen.janna.taylor@mt.gov and my website is jannataylor.com. Remember that I work for you.

January 16th

As a fiscal conservative, I neglected to mention that the fantastic blackhawk trip my sub-committee took last week did not cost the taxpayers any additional money. We were part of an Army National Guard required training exercise. There were two blackhawks flying in tandem, each with an instructor and a trainee getting more hours. I got to see lots of trees from what seemed like a few inches above the top branch. We actually had several briefings from the Air National Guard.

As you may know, the F-16s are gone. Montana is now the home of eight 8 C-130 Hercules Transports. Our Air National Guard is being reconfigured and we have new or re-trained pilots and a new hangar in Great Falls. Seven of the big planes are named for the seven largest cities in Montana and one is named Montana.

Besides the many duties of the Army and Air National Guard that most of us are familiar with, they manage the veterans affairs division, vet cemetery program, plus extensive disaster and fire services. As your Senator, I thanked all of the service men and women I met. By the way, one of the C-130 pilots was a female and she flew F-16s in the mid-east conflicts!

Being back on the budgeting committee I get to hear about requests and requirements I asked for many years ago! Our banking review division still does a superb job, but they have too much money left over at the end of each year and the director told the committee I told her that on her first day of work..

One thing I asked for in 2007 is more transparency from our IT director. Did you know that the state checkbook is online? If you go to transparency.mt.gov you can search for piles of stuff. Montana wins awards in tech circles for this website.

In 2013 the transparency portal received 67,000 visits. In 2014 the hits were down to 38,000. My guess is because the first year visitors found out what they were looking for. Salary information is included on this website. Next week I will write about state salaries. And state benefits.

I have already received tons of emails and calls and it has become impossible to answer all of them, however, I do read them all. I do try to respond to all the comments from our local area. SB 54 is good example. This bill would allow the release of purchase price for real estate. Our Department of Revenue wants this bill. Most Montanans would rather keep the sales price confidential.

Most real estate agents agree with the citizens and are against SB 54. Because I am on Senate Taxation Committee I have received at least a hundred emails from them. Many are identical. There is some kind of pre-written text they can email to each committee member. Most appraisers are in favor of this bill. As you might remember from 6 years ago, your property is appraised by comparison with at least five comparable sales in your area. If you want to know these, you have to appeal your appraised value and sign a confidentiality agreement.

My cell phone, 252-8766, is usually off but you can leave me a message at 406-444-4800. My email address is sen.janna.taylor@mt.gov and my website is still up at jannataylor.com. Never forget that I work for you.

January 9th

It was an honor to sponsor Taylor Rost as a Senate Page. She was phenomenal and very helpful. The page director told me what a wonderful job she did. Our area has great young people!

The Montana legislature has its first female presiding officer, Senator Debbie Barrett from the Dillon area. President Barrett asked me to nominate her. What a fitting way to conclude Montana's 100 years of female suffrage.

Last week we organized committees. My Local Government Committee has no new legislators and full of expertise. The same is true for Senate Taxation. Of course, re-appraisal will be a major issue as will tax simplification. The good news is that we do have some extra money. I still hesitate to call this a surplus. If the state has left over money it should return the over-taxation to the taxpayers. The price of a barrel of oil is still a concern. Our forecasters predict that the price will stabilize by 2017, but our next quarter will see a reduction. It is difficult to predict how much of a reduction we will see. Lower gas prices means more tourists and more money in our pockets.

I am part of the committee that works on the revenue estimate. And I am part of the committee that spends the money! My General Government sub-committee will review several state agencies. We look at their personnel budget, new program requests and on-going spending. Your state legislators do not get to go on exciting junkets like the fed guys. I have had a tour of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Revenue so far in my legislative career. Until now...Thursday morning I will ride up to Great Falls on a Black Hawk Helicopter!

My General Government sub-committee reviews the budget for our Department of Military Affairs. After the Senate floor that day we will tour Ft. Harrison in Helena. What an honor it will be to shake the hands of our service people. Most of their budget is federal dollars. Still, the legislature gives all state government the spending approval regardless of the origin of the money. Many of you know that each Senate floor session begins with a prayer, this year from Pastor Johnson of Helena. On Thursday mornings I get up pretty early to attend his bible study...it's a great way to start a day.

Cold and snowy Helena weather makes for good study time in my office. Please let me know if you get a chance to visit the Capitol. It is an honor to serve you in this beautiful building. Leave me a message at 406-444-4800. My cell phone is 253-8766, but it is off most of the day. Feel free to email me at sen.janna.taylor@mt.gov.

Always remember that I work for you! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

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Janna Taylor

As always,  please call 406-253-8766 or email jannataylor@montana.com or sen.janna.taylor@mt.gov  with any comments or suggestions you may have. You can also follow Janna on Facebook

 

 

Janna Taylor
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