Salary information for state employees available online

2012-07-11T17:15:00Z 2012-07-11T17:33:10Z Salary information for state employees available onlineBy CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette

HELENA — After winning a lengthy court battle with the state, a Bozeman nonprofit group Thursday will make the salaries of nearly 15,000 state employees available on a website viewable by the public.

The Montana Policy Institute is posting the information on a website, www.opengovmt.org, which will include salaries for individual employees in the executive, legislative and judicial branches in state government.

While salaries for state employees in Montana are public information and can be obtained on an individual basis from the Department of Administration or an individual department, no individual or group had posted all of them on a website previously.

People using the website can look up salary information by employee in departments or by job title and sort the information by agency or statewide, for each of the past three years, from highest to lowest or vice versa. The website covers salary data from 2009 to 2011.

Salaries for Montana university system employees are not included yet, although pay information for the staff of the commissioner of higher education office is in the database.

The institute, a right-leaning nonprofit group in Bozeman that promotes free-market approaches to problems, obtained the data in a lawsuit against the state Department of Administration, which oversees the state payroll.

District Judge Dorothy McCarter of Helena ordered the department to provide the pay information in electronic format to the institute for the past three years. The institute, which intends to update the salary database annually, was ordered to pay for the costs of computer programming to make the salary information meet its specifications.

The pay information includes summary statistics in areas such as employee demographics, average compensation values, union membership and funding source.

Website users can view salary data for employees based on name, department, location and many other criteria.

“The site is nonjudgmental about whether the numbers are too high, too low or just about right,” said Carl Graham, CEO of the Montana Policy Institute. “But it does put the lie to recent statements that state employee pay has been frozen.”

He said the information shows the real (after inflation) average increase for state employees was nearly 11 percent between 2004 and 2011, with the largest increases going to those making more than $75,000 annually.

There are several ways for state employees to get raises. They can get pay hikes when the Legislature passes an across-the-board raise in base pay for all state employees. Employees also can get longevity pay increases added to their base pay for every continuous five years of state service.

In addition, under the state’s broadband pay plan, department directors have more flexibility to adjust employees pay if they meet certain criteria and the agencies have the money available to do it.

Base pay for state employees was frozen when the 2011 Legislature rejected a pay deal negotiated by Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s administration and three unions representing public employees. The deal would have raised base pay for state workers by 1 percent in January 2012 and by 3 percent a year later.

Shortly before the 2009 Legislature, these public employee unions agreed to a two-year freeze in base pay for public employees making $45,000 or more. Those making less than $45,000 each received a one-time $450 payment.

Compensation for state workers also figures to be a major issue in the 2013 Legislature. The unions and Schweitzer administration agreed on a pay plan to provide across-the-board 5 percent increases in base pay in each of the next two years, plus a 10 percent increase annually in the state’s share of employees’ health insurance premiums.

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