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After reading the arguments put forth by a series of legislators as to why the state doesn’t have money for state employee raises, public schools, and other programs, I can’t help but ask a number of questions.

If it is true that legislators are considered 25 percent state employees it seems excessive to me for them to receive, as 96 legislators currently do, $733 per month, each month of their term, for state health insurance. Legislators who do not enroll in the state health insurance program are eligible to receive up to $733 per month to pay premiums for their personal insurance and forty-six legislators have elected this option. Only eight, five Democrat and three Republican, legislators currently receive no health insurance benefit from the state. These benefits could cost the state more than one million dollars a year. Is it true that other state employees must be on an appointment of at least 50 percent to be entitled to even a portion of this benefit?

Legislators are also permitted to enroll in the PERS retirement system; and most of them do. Legislators are allowed to “buy” the time for which they receive no salary and after five years are considered vested in the system. Being vested gives them a number of privileges, one of them being able to continue to participate in the state health insurance program. However they must pay the entire premium when they are no longer a legislator. Are all part-time state employees eligible for this benefit or is it unique to legislators?

A number of legislators have gone on to take high paying state jobs, also covered by PERS, for a few years and could, when eligible, receive retirement pay based on the high three year salary average. How much does this huge jump in salary contribute to the PERS shortfall? Is it true that this legislature killed a bill that would have limited how much a legislator could increase retirement pay during the last few years before receiving retirement?

The rules for new legislators and others entering the PERS program now base retirement annuity on the high five years.

At least one Senator wanted to replace the PERS retirement system with a 401k program but current legislators would not leave the PERS system. When the Republicans deregulated Montana Power wasn’t the employee 401k program wiped out, leaving the balance at zero?

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Is the state still purchasing computers for legislators? How often are they replaced? I know teachers who have bought their own computer to use in the classroom because the school could not afford to buy them one.

Do all state employees employed on 25 percent time receive these benefits? Do private businesses provide these benefits?

Even the most conservative legislators have voluntarily elected to receive these excessive benefits and have not proposed cutting them.

I have no problem with employee benefits and I strongly support state employees and teachers receiving guaranteed benefits. I do believe however that it is misleading, if not morally dishonest, for legislators not to be forthcoming about their own benefits while advocating cutting those for others. Perhaps legislators should start cutting their benefits first.

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