Guest opinion: Keep Montana's promise to public servants

2013-01-09T00:05:00Z Guest opinion: Keep Montana's promise to public servantsBy ERIC FEAVER The Billings Gazette
January 09, 2013 12:05 am  • 

We've all heard the slogans about our home state.

Montana is "the last best place," the "big sky state," and is "naturally inviting." These slogans have meaning to us for one reason: they are true.

It is also true that life in Montana isn't easy. And it isn't cheap. There really are not that many of us spread out over the fourth largest state in our union. Nonetheless, we rely upon quality public programs and services and the public employees who provide them from health care, to firefighting, to public safety, to education -- all to maintain and enhance our very special place.

In this serious regard, as representatives for all Montanans, legislators now have an opportunity to reaffirm appreciation for and commitment to fellow Montana citizens who dedicate their career lives to public programs and services.

Repair the system

No one denies that our underfunded public employee retirement systems must be repaired. But in doing so, we must not kill them off. Instead, we need to celebrate what our public employee retirement systems are all about -- pensions. Pensions to insure that we the people may recruit and retain quality career public employees who, after they have given their lives to all Montanans, may retire in comfort and assurance they will not become old-age wards of the state.

This has long been and must remain "Montana's Promise."

Share the burden

We know bringing our public employee pension systems into actuarial order will be a heavy lift. But the good news is public employees are prepared to work with the Legislature on a strong compromise to realize Montana's Promise -- a compromise that requires current and future employees enrolled in our public retirement pension systems to share the burden.

Unfortunately, we face formidable opposition. A number of out-of-state organizations, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Pew Center for the States, and American Tradition Partnership (ATP) are working to undermine Montana's Promise. Their experiments and theories about actuarial science and alternatives to Montana's Promise have the capacity to gut Montana's pension systems and jeopardize the personal and financial security of our friends, family members, and neighbors in public service careers.

Perhaps worse, they will make Montana's public service jobs less attractive to future generations of Montanans who dream of serving their communities as did their parents and role models. Other out-of-state organizations are simply disdainful of all "government" and are focused on undermining the value career public employees add to our state.

So, here at the beginning of the 63rd Montana Legislature, we call upon the elected representatives of Montanans to reject these out-of-state partisans and stand firmly behind Montana's Promise and our defined benefit pension systems.

Eric Feaver is president of the Montana Education Association-Montana Federation of Teachers. He collaborated on this guest opinion with Al Ekblad, of the Montana AFL-CIO, Joel Fassbinder is of the Montana State Council of Professional Fire Fighters, Jacquie Helt of the Service Employees International Union, and Timm Twardowski of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Montana Council 9.They are members of Montana's Promise Coalition. To learn more about the coalition's campaign, please visit www.montanaspromise.com or call 406-461-4618.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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