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Montana Senate backs state employee raises

Kathryn Haake, Associated Press

HELENA, Mont. (AP) -- Montana's Senate on Monday endorsed an amended version of the governor's plan to give pay raises to state workers who have been laboring under a multi-year wage freeze.

The original plan would have increased wages by 5 percent for two years. The House reduced that amount by 25 percent, leaving the governor's office a lump sum of $113 million dollars to allocate in raises.

House Republicans originally tried to designate raises only to employees who hadn't received increases during the pay freeze, but the House passed a version that would allow the governor's office to use its discretion in distributing raises.

Senators from both sides of the aisle said House Bill 13 was a good compromise, including Sen. Jon Sesso, D-Butte, who attempted to put more money back into the plan with an amendment that failed.

Sen. Alan Olson, R- Roundup, said the measure would give hardworking employees a much needed raise.

The Senate gave its initial support of the measure in a 35-13 vote Monday.

The chamber also endorsed an amended version of House Bill 5, which allots money for building projects, with an initial 31-19 vote.

The amended measure includes $39 million for Missoula College construction and a new science building at Montana State University at Billings.

The bill also partially funds a land acquisition for Great Falls College.

But not everyone got what they wanted out of the deal.

An amendment backed by Sen. Christine Kaufmann, D-Helena, would have granted the Montana Historical Society $32 million to construct a new building.

It failed to get the Republican majority's support.

Both measures will need to pass a final vote before facing Gov. Steve Bullock.