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Arne Carlson weighs in on salary tussle

Former governor Arne Carlson, a Republican, thinks there’s a way to get beyond politics when it comes to how state government employees are compensated. 

Former Gov. Arne Carlson
MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Former Gov. Arne Carlson

My old boss, former Gov. Arne Carlson, thinks there’s an opportunity that goes beyond politics in the controversy over Gov. Mark Dayton’s decision to give pay raises to his commissioners.

“If they are going to postpone this decision … It gives you time to do a comprehensive survey of salaries in the public sector, including higher education,” Carlson said.

And while he thinks the Senate’s recent vote to delay the raises until July 1 is appropriate, he also supports, in principle, Dayton’s decision to give the raises. “It is difficult to run complicated departments, starting with finance,” he said.  “When I was in office, we were getting raided by the private sector constantly.”

But, he added, “It’s really of a question of being competitive with [other parts] of the public sector.

Carlson has commented frequently about the inconsistency of public salaries, particularly when it comes to compensation at the University of Minnesota.

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Two years ago, Carlson noted in a blog, “The governor makes $120,000 and the university president is paid $610,000 – a gap of $490,000.” Today that gap is slightly bigger: the governor now makes $125,000; the U of M president, $625,000.

Furthermore, Carlson wrote, “The lead attorney for the university makes $295,000. That’s about $180,000 more than Minnesota’s attorney general, $95,000 more than the attorney general of the United States, and over $70,000 more than the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court… The university lobbyist who pleads the school’s case at the State Capitol earns some $60,000 more than the governor.”

In 2013, Carlson said the legislative auditor should review the university’s human resources management system.  Today, he thinks the scope of the review should be even wider. “I would do a survey that includes salaries, pensions, and benefits,” across the public sector, he said.  “You will find people in local government that make more than in state government and I was stunned at the difference in pensions.”

Such a survey could take away some of the political edge of the issue, Carlson said, talk that legislators are bound to listen to. “There’s enough political flak that legislators don’t dare raise salaries,” he said. “But then they don’t have to explain the consequences. And the consequences are that you start losing people you can’t replace.”