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Minnesota legislative pay raise: Burden of push for passage falls on majority

mn senate session photo
MinnPost photo by James Nord
Most GOP legislators agree that the raise is overdue, but they also said it’s the job of the majority to take the hard vote.

Sometimes, being in the minority means not having to take a hard political vote.

On Tuesday afternoon, all Republican senators voted against a bill that would raise the pay of legislators from $31,000 to $42,000, even though most of those senators seem to believe the raise is in order.

After a long caucus, DFLers did scrape up the necessary votes to pass the raise, which is included in the omnibus State Departments and Veterans Omnibus bill.

The final tally was 34-32, with one GOP senator absent from the proceedings. The governor would receive an increase from $120,000 to $128,000 under the bill. Raises would not take effect until 2015.

In the final vote, five DFL senators — Susan Kent, Vicki Jensen, Kevin Dahle, John Hoffman and Greg Clausen — joined Republicans in voting against the bill that included the raise.

Legislators have not received a raise since 1999, and Gov. Mark Dayton says an increase is long overdue.

“The reality is these are very talented people serving for half what they’d make elsewhere,’’ the governor said at a news conference prior to the Senate vote.

Dayton suggested that legislators should be paid the state average for a Minnesota family, which is around $54,000.

“Our citizens are extraordinarily well-served,” he said.

Most GOP legislators agree that the raise is overdue, but they also said it’s the job of the majority to take the hard vote.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk echoed the notion that the majority must take the lead on pay increases, even though it’s invariably unpopular with the public.

Legislators do get paid per-diem expenses, in addition to their salaries. On average, those per diems amounted to about $11,000 per member last year. Those expenses are to cover costs of travel and, for members from outstate areas, lodging costs. Additionally, the per diems are to cover costs of meetings held when the Legislature is not in session.

Currently, there is no similar pay raise bill in the House where voting for a pay increase is even dicier than in the Senate, because representatives always are facing the next election. Bakk said that the Senate will work hard for the passage in conference committee.

The bill that includes the raise also has a provision that ends the Sunset Commission, which was put in place when the GOP was in control of the Legislature.  That commission was to root out agencies and commissions across state government that were duplicative.

DFLers opposed the sunset commission, saying that it is the job of the Legislature to eliminate wasteful practices. Additionally, the state already is served by a legislative auditor.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, found some humor in the sunsetting of the sunset commission, noting that the sunset commission would become the first commission eliminated.

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Comments (2)

New Hampshire

representatives are paid $200 for a two year term - a citizen legislature to be sure. Here, it looks like we are moving toward a full-time legislature.

How many ordinary "citizens" can take time off work for this?

It seems like a good way to ensure that the only way you can serve in the NH legislature is if you're independently wealthy, supported by your spouse or other family, or are taking bribes. It is an important job and not one that can reasonably be done in one's spare time. Legislative salaries are such a tiny portion of the overall budget that it's foolish to try to be too cheap, and push talented people into private jobs where they can make much more money.