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Dayton cedes power to Legislature in pay-raise deal

The tentative agreement suspends recently enacted raises until July 1. But it also reverses a 2013 law that allowed Dayton to increase commissioner salaries in the first place. 

The agreement comes after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations between Gov. Mark Dayton and legislators over the commissioner salaries.
Office of the Governor

Well that’s that.

DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders finally reached an agreement to raise salaries for more than two dozen members of the governor’s cabinet  though Dayton ceded considerable executive power to do so. 

The tentative agreement, brokered between the governor, House Republican Speaker Kurt Daudt and Senate Majority Leader Bakk on Thursday, suspends recently enacted raises until July 1. But it also reverses a 2013 law change that allowed Dayton to increase commissioner salaries in the first place. Instead, the Legislature would have final approval of any salary hikes.

House members approved the agreement on a 106-21 vote Thursday evening, which was attached to a bill that pumps emergency funding into the Minnesota Zoo, the state’s security hospital in St. Peter and Ebola preparedness measures for the Department of Health.

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The agreement comes after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations between Dayton and legislators over the commissioner salaries, which all together total about $800,000.

Republicans said the pay increases came at a time when many Minnesotans haven’t seen raises in years, but Dayton said they were needed to retain talented employees at the state level, many of whom could make more in the private sector. The deliberations also exposed some long-simmering tensions, capped off by a blowup last week between Dayton and Bakk, after the Senate voted to delay the raises until this summer. Dayton said he was blindsided by the move from a member in his own party, going as far as to say Bakk “stabbed me in the back.”

In the end, Dayton gave up considerable ground to get the deal, agreeing to combine both the DFL Senate and House Republican positions in order to move forward on the salaries. Last week, Dayton insisted that he would veto the emergency funding bill if it landed on his desk with the Senate proposal to delay the salaries, but he backed off that position in the agreement reached this week.

The biggest upside for Dayton: the deal puts an end to the contentious debate that has sucked most of the oxygen out of the Capitol over the last month.

In January, Dayton used a 2013 law allowing the governor to raise the wages of cabinet members to increase the salaries of 26 commissioners. Under the agreement reached Thursday, Dayton’s commissioners would immediately see those raises suspended. On July 1, Dayton will have a single day to set new wages for his commissioners. The following day, the power to approve all future pay raises switches to the Legislature.

The public was rightfully upset that the Governor single-handedly decided to raise commissioner salaries by more than $800,000 without their input,” said GOP Rep. Roz Peterson, who offered the proposal to rescind the governor’s pay raise power. This bill puts salary decisions back in the hands of the Legislature where the public can make their voices heard and be part of the conversation.”

Lawmakers still need to work out the differences in their bills in a conference committee next week before Dayton can sign the deal into law. And not surprisingly, not everyone is happy with the deal. Senate Minority Leader David Hann said Senate Republicans will continue to push for lawmakers to nix the salary increases altogether.