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Missoulian: Montana Checkbook, salaries go online

…The database won praise from Carl Graham, CEO of the Montana Policy Institute, which had been pushing the state to create online sites showing both expenses and salaries. His group successfully sued the state over the salary information during the Schweitzer administration and put the pay information on its website…

This story appeared in Lee newspapers across the state.

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Big Sky Business Journal: MPI and New State Transparency Site

…”The state website came as a complete surprise, albeit a nice one,” said Carl Graham, whose organization, Montana Policy Institute, (MPI) fought long and hard to get such a site.

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Montana’s New Transparency Site

The state has finally put a checkbook and employee salaries online. Good for them. And I mean that. It’s a great first step and Governor Bullock and his new administration deserve great credit for doing it.

So now let’s make it much more useful with just a little more effort.

How do we do that?

First, expand the dates of data available on the online checkbook. While a snapshot is nice for looking at who sold the state, for example, copy paper last December, what’s really nice  to know is how much the state – or a department – spends on copy paper over time and who supplies it. That would allow departments and agencies to make comparisons prior to going shopping themselves, vendors to tailor their bids based on going rates, and citizens to compare how they spend their money to how the state spends it. All of those actions will save dollars by creating a more competitive and transparent process and give taxpayers assurances that that process is both fair and effective.

Next, expand the dates and include total compensation for state employees. There are two issues here. First, expanding the dates is important so that taxpayers can see compensation trends rather than snapshots in time. Why is this important? The recent pay freeze provides a perfect example. By looking at trend data on MPI’s own transparency portal, it’s clear that virtually every state employee was being paid more at the end of the ‘freeze’ period than before it, and that the largest increases occurred at the higher pay bands. You can only get that kind of information from trends, which requires multiple years of pay data available.

But even more importantly, as far as I can tell the state’s pay data only has hourly rates and does not include things like overtime, bonuses, and any number of other forms of compensation that state employees receive. That’ just dishonest. The state wants to know everything that you make – what’s on your W-2 – when you calculate your taxes. You should see everything they make when you pay those taxes. Now of course I’m not talking about travel pay and other straight reimbursements of direct costs associated with doing their jobs; but if it’s considered compensation by the Department of Revenue, it should be available to taxpayers.

So…it’s a good start but let’s not be satisfied with it just yet. The state could add immeasurable benefit to their site by expanding the dates back at least five years and including all employee compensation, not just basic pay rates. They created this site out of available funds, which is very commendable considering former Governor Schweitzer killed previous efforts by saying it would cost millions. So let’s invest a little more to increase the efficiency of our state government and our taxpayers’ confidence in it.

Oh, by the way. Did I mention the Montana University System isn’t even included in the discussion much less the data. Let’s see if they’re willing to step up before being prodded into it.

 

Montana’s Lagging Ways

11-12 Tapping Capitalism V5comp slides

Take a look at the link that’s right above this post. It’s a pdf of three state comparison slides that we’ve been using to demonstrate the real problem Montana has with economic development. What it shows is that, while Montana consistently ranks middle of the road in economic and demographic comparisons nationally, we’re at the bottom of the pack when compared to the states around us.
If we want to fund legitimate government needs we need economic growth and jobs. If we want people to be happy and reach their potential we need to give them the opportunity for earned success. We’re lagging our neighbors in virtually all of these measures because of policies that have been put in place that may have been well-meaning at the time but that remove options and retard growth in the long term. We’re now reaping the ‘rewards’ of those policies through low wages and high unemployment compared to our neighbors.
The problems are many and the solutions are difficult. But they just grow and get more difficult the longer we wait. Here are a few things the legislature and governor should do yesterday to return Montana’s competitiveness and allow our citizens to pursue happiness and reach for their potential:

[list type=”check”]

  • Labor Reform: Become a right to work state, become an ‘at will’ state, and bring the minimum wage back to federal levels
  • Budget Reform: Reform our state budgeting process so that we spend based on priorities rather than politics
  • Legal Reform: Reform our liability system to decide based on rule of law rather than preferred outcomes of specific cases. This is the biggest single impediment to businesses and job creators coming into the state. If they can’t estimate their future liability risks they’ll move on to someplace where they can
  • Pension and Pay Reform: Most state employees are not overpaid, but too many have migrated into higher pay bands over the past ten years while lower paid workers have been left behind. Our pension system is $10 billion underfunded. Without true reform we won’t be able to keep the promises we’ve made to our public employees.
  • Land Use: The federal government owns about 30% of Montana’s lands and is increasingly trying to regulate the rest. We should decide what happens in Montana and we are capable of regulating responsible development, whether it’s in agriculture, resources, or recreation.
  • Health Care: Obamacare will raise health care costs and decrease access to quality care. We need to implement consumer-driven reforms that allow patients and doctors to make responsible decisions rather than being dictated to from Washington.
  • Education Reform: Our education funding system is a mess and our rules don’t allow parents, teachers, and students to innovate and ensure each student gets the best possible education. We need choices and new thinking, not just more money thrown at the problem.
  • Government Transparency and Accountability: Taxpayers have a right to know how their dollars are being spent and what’s being done in their names. We need the state to post spending, actual spending not just projected budgets, so that each Montanan can be a citizen watchdog and a responsible part of the process. Senator Taylor Brown has a bill to do just that. Take a look at it and tell your legislators and the governor what you think.

[/list]

That’s a pretty good start and what MPI will be working on to make Montana competitive again, but mostly to provide each of us the opportunities that free people deserve.

 

Media Trackers Montana: 50 State Legislators Discuss Free Markets at Montana Policy Institute Forum

A total of 50 state legislators and approximately 130 people met this weekend to discuss free market principles for Montana.

The two-day event was hosted by the Montana Policy Institute (MPI) and focused on gearing up both state legislators and the general public for the upcoming 2013 legislature. The forum featured discussions and presentations on important issues for the upcoming legislature and was highlighted with a presentation by Wall Street Journal Editorial Board Member and Senior Economics Writer Stephen Moore.

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Don’t Shoot the Messenger: MPI Wants Pay Accuracy, Too

By: Carl Graham, CEO, Montana Policy Institute

MEA-MFT’s Eric Feaver asserts in a recent open letter to me that the state employee compensation data at MPI’s opengovmt.org website is “…flawed and distorts the reality of state employee salaries and benefits.”  I think his frustration is misplaced.

While we simply presented data provided by the state and cannot independently verify whether it’s “flawed,” it’s also true that the data would be much more useful if it contained greater detail, omitted certain things, and provided more context. We’d like that, too.

MPI waited over two years, won a lawsuit, and paid the state over $1,000 to obtain the pay data used in opengovmt.org.  What you see is what we got, with one caveat.  The 189 Mbytes of data – equal to nearly 120,000 printed pages – provided by the state broke down pay items by earning codes, and our original intent was to present them that way.  But for reasons too technical to describe in 700 words, we simply were not comfortable with the validity of that breakdown.  So instead we went with the state-provided year-to-date total figure that included most benefits and other payroll costs.

Mea Culpa on us for not explaining that better.  But after months of delays and unexpectedly high fees from the state, we simply felt we had done the best that we could.  That being said, the best MPI can do from the outside is certainly not the best that can be done.

This point is illustrated by Mr. Feaver’s recitation of opengovmt.org’s shortcomings, with which I mostly agree.  Let’s take a look.

First, he points out that year-to-year pay increases due to job changes or as a result of going from a partial year’s work to a full year’s work are not highlighted and explained as such.  Yep.  The data we obtained does not include hire date or job changes, only current job and whether anything was paid that year.  Breaking that down further would require the state to create yet another custom report at our expense.  We had to draw the line somewhere on how much we were willing to pay the state to create electronic reports from their SABHRS personnel system, and that level of detail didn’t make the budget.  Why a system as comprehensive as SABHRS has to be reprogrammed at great expense to create custom reports with existing data is a different question altogether, and one we’d leave for the Department of Administration to address.

Next, Mr. Feaver points out that we did not disaggregate employee reimbursements for business expenses.  I agree completely that expense reimbursements are not pay and would have omitted them if it were possible without compromising other data.  But since we were unable to pick and choose pay codes we were forced to aggregate it all.  MPI was clear in our court case that we were not interested in reimbursements, but since the state mingled them with the full data set we could not confidently omit them.

Mr. Feaver also notes that we did not disaggregate employee benefits and severance payments.  Same answer as above.  We wanted to disaggregate and display individual types of pay (other than reimbursements) all along but could not confidently do it with the data set that we received.  Where we erred was in not making that tradeoff clearer in the website’s overview and methodology notes.

Finally, Mr. Feaver asserts that we have an obligation to verify the data (with whom he does not say since it came from and resides at a single source: The Department of Administration), and to suspend opengovmt.org until we make the changes he requests.  Well, that’s not going to happen.

What can and should happen, though, is working together as Mr. Feaver suggests to “…compel the state to create its own state employee pay site…”  Getting the state to post spending online is something MPI has worked for unsuccessfully since 2008.  State employee compensation would be a relatively simple place to start.

MPI and MEA-MFT working together on something like this would not only be a Disney moment with birds twittering and flowers blooming; it would also be a service to state employees and taxpayers.  If the state publishes a timely, credible, and comprehensive website: one that includes information currently at opengovmt.org while addressing Mr. Feaver’s concerns, the pay portion of MPI’s site will go dark the very next day.  We can pull the plug on it together.

 

####

For Immediate Release

731 Words

 

Carl Graham is CEO of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit policy research and education center based inBozeman.

He can be reached at:

67W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman,MT59715

(406) 219-0508

cgraham@montanapolicy.org

New Website Provides State Employee Pay

Bozeman — Despite a two-year pay freeze, average state employee salaries and benefits have increased faster than the rate of inflation since 2004.

This and other findings are available in a new website, opengovmt.org, created by the Bozeman-based nonprofit Montana Policy Institute.

Pay data in the website was handed over by the state following a long legal battle and provides individual pay information for all state employees along with summary statistics in a variety of areas, including employee demographics, average compensation values, union membership, and funding sources.

According to MPI president Carl Graham, site users can review salary information for employees based on name, location, department, and many other criteria.

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

According to site data, the real (after inflation) average increase in compensation was nearly 11 percent between 2004 and 2011, with the largest increases going to those making over $75,000 per year.

Compensation is likely to be a hot issue for the 2013 Legislature after it failed to ratify a pay raise for state workers in 2011. Lawmakers will be expected to vote on a recently announced 5 percent increase negotiated between public employee unions and the Schweitzer administration.

“This type of data should place everybody on an equal footing” added Graham. “Legislators and taxpayers have a right to know what their employees are paid, and that information simply was not available until now.”

Following nearly two years of open records request refusals by the state, MPI recently won a lawsuit demanding actual pay data for each state employee. That data is now available to the public at no cost on the opengovmt.org transparency portal along with detailed school revenue and spending information.

 

Contact:

Carl Graham

CEO

Montana Policy Institute

(406) 219-0508

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305 Words

For July 11th, 2012 Release

 

For an interview with Montana Policy Institute’s Carl Graham call (406) 219-0508 or email info@montanapolicy.org.

The Montana Policy Institute is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research center based in Bozeman. To find out more visit us on the web at www.montanapolicy.org or contact us at 406-219-0508.

 

Enough Already! – Your Tax $$ at Waste

$400 billion in waste at the federal level due to program duplication. We could do the same analysis at the state level and save $$$ millions.

Two recent studies have dealt MT disappointing grades

Two recently released studies have dealt Montana disappointing grades.
The first comes a report card put out by StateIntegrity.org, where Montana received the overall grade of a ‘D+’.

If you think that’s bad, the latter comes from the US Public Interest Research Group’s Follow The Money 2012: How the 50 States Rate in Providing Online Access to Government Spending Data where Montana received a whopping ‘F’. Not quite something to brag about.

Click here to read StateIntegrity.org’s “Story Behind the Score” which cites the work MPI has been doing to help reverse these grades.