Tuition freeze, employee pay discussions continue in Helena

Among the things to be discussed in this week’s appropriations hearings at the state Legislature are a two-year tuition freeze for MSU and a pay increase for state employees.

The Montana University System (MUS) is in the process of requesting enough money to cover the estimated increase of tuition for the next two years. Clay Christian, the Montana commissioner of higher education, said the offices of both former Governor Brian Schweitzer and Governor Steve Bullock have and continue to support the additional funding. The proposed tuition freeze is similar to one that was put into effect in 2007.

House Bill (HB) 13 proposes a 5 percent increase in state employees’ salaries over the next two years. Representative Kathy Swanson (D-Anaconda), the sponsor of the bill, believes it is necessary because Montana trails the national average state employee salary. The Missoulian reported, “Twenty-five people testified in favor of the bill, while no one opposed it.”

Commissioner Christian also spoke in favor of the pay raise for state employees — especially those in the education field. He said, “Some sort of reasonable pay plan needs to be passed by the state.” He stated that the starting salaries for education professionals in Montana can be competitive with offers from other states, but as individuals advance in their careers they see fewer pay raises, which can discourage them from staying in state.

Christian added, “[We need to] secure funding through the state to make sure that we find a way to provide adequate compensation.”