State of Montana Ordered to Provide Pay Data

HELENA — A conservative-leaning think tank and the state have reached a settlement to conclude the group’s successful legal effort to obtain and publicize salary data, in electronic format, for 14,000 state government employees.

The agreement, recently signed by top officials from the Montana Policy Institute and the state Department of Administration, aims to provide the data to the group by April 1.

“We’re obviously very happy with the settlement,” said Carl Graham, president of the Montana Policy Institute. “We’re anxious to get the data so we can put it out for taxpayers to see.”

The institute will receive each state government employee’s yearly base pay, with that number broken down into base pay, overtime or compensatory time pay, other salary, bonus pay, buyout or early retirement and other compensation, including reimbursements, travel or other.

The agreement implements an order by District Judge Dorothy McCarter of Helena on Jan. 27 in favor of the institute.

McCarter ordered the department, which oversees the state payroll, to provide salary data in an electronic format to the institute, which must pay for the added programming costs. She also required the state to pay the institute’s costs and attorney fees.

The Montana Policy Institute, based in Bozeman, bills itself as a “free market think tank.”

Under the agreement, the department agreed to provide the pay information, in electronic format, for state employees for calendar years 2009, 2010 and 2011. The agreement said the state “will make its best efforts” to provide the data by April 1.

The Montana Policy Institute will pay the state the actual costs for department programmers, who make $24.13 an hour, to prepare the salary data in an electronic format. If the actual cost of preparing the report exceeds $800, the institute must be notified.

The deal also says the institute must pay the actual costs before the state hands over the data.

If the institute wants similar salary information in the future, it must notify the department in writing. Once again, the institute must pay the actual costs of preparing the report, which is estimated to be $240 annually.

The state agreed to pay the Montana Policy Institute $5,700 for its attorney fees and legal costs. The institute had asked for $6,548. The institute’s lawyer is Art Wittich, a Republican state senator, who has a private law practice in Bozeman.

Finally, the institute agreed to dismiss its court case after signing the agreement and after receiving its fees and costs.

Sheryl Olson, deputy director of the Department of Administration, had no comment Monday. She earlier had characterized the ruling as a victory for the state, saying it “ensures that taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill for requests that require the state to change the way in which it collects and stores data.”

The Montana Policy Institute had been trying since the summer of 2010 to get the pay data from the state and had agreed to pay for any extra state computer-programming costs to meet its request.

The institute had requested the total annual compensation for all state government employees, but the Department of Administration initially said it would provide only their hourly wage rates.

By CHARLES S. JOHNSON Gazette State Bureau The Billings Gazette | Posted: Monday, March 5, 2012 4:37 pm

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