Governor, lawmakers, reach deal on commissioner pay raises
How they voted YES: Dave Baker, R-Willmar; Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg; Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City ST. PAUL -- After weeks of fighting over salary raises Gov. Mark Dayton gave agency heads, he and lawmakers agreed to freeze salaries at 2014 levels thr...
How they voted
YES: Dave Baker, R-Willmar; Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg; Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City
ST. PAUL - After weeks of fighting over salary raises Gov. Mark Dayton gave agency heads, he and lawmakers agreed to freeze salaries at 2014 levels through June 30 and strip governors of their ability to set salaries after July 2 of this year.
That deal gives the DFL governor just until July 1 to enact the salaries he sees fit for commissioners.
In January, Dayton raised salaries for top appointees by $35,000 to $155,000 a year; others got smaller increases.
For a month, a Capitol storm brewed over the increases. It was only settled Thursday when the House overwhelmingly approved a compromise that Dayton said he would sign. That deal, attached to an emergency budget measure, passed 106-21.
“Gov. Dayton agreed to do some stuff he had said a week ago he absolutely would not do and he would veto,” said Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, who has conducted shuttle diplomacy between the governor and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk.
Before the breakthrough, a $15 million emergency budget bill was halted, commissioner confirmations were put on hold, and Dayton and Bakk, fellow Democratic-Farmer-Laborites, broke off their once-allied relationship.
But after days of private talks among Capitol leaders, Dayton agreed to give in on salaries so he could get back to other policy matters.
Last week, he castigated Bakk for proposing the salary freeze and winning its passage in the Senate. This week, Dayton has publicly avoided comment on the issue, and his office declined to comment on the deal after it passed the House.
The pay settlement allows for quicker release of funding for the St. Peter security hospital, partial reimbursement for costs hospitals and the Minnesota Health Department incurred during the Ebola scare last year and more than $1 million for the Minnesota Zoo in Apple Valley to avoid more layoffs or exhibit closings. Once Dayton signs the measure, that money will immediately be allocated.
House Republicans and DFLers generally lauded the spending plan.
“We’ve seen a week of embarrassment,” said Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood. “Today’s the day to start doing the right thing.”
But Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the measure reeked of “crony government.”
“Members, this is not a deficiency bill. This is a mismanagement bill,” he said on the House floor.
The deal left some matters unclear.
Some House members, including Daudt, said that on July 1 Dayton will need to enact new pay scales for commissioners.
“Hopefully, the backlash that he received from the public has an impact on his decision. Obviously, he does not need to put these increases in place but that decision is his,” said Daudt, R-Crown. “I don’t know what he’ll do.”
But others said that on July 1, salaries will automatically revert to their January 2015 levels. That is, the commissioners will receive the same higher salaries they got for January and February that caused the mess in the first place.
It is also unsettled whether the monthlong debate over pay will continue to echo in the Capitol hearing rooms.
“We will likely have hearings on the pay increases, the size of them, whether they’re warranted and also what happens to the folks underneath those commissioners,” Daudt said after the House vote. “Will they trigger other pay increases?”
But House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he understood that the House agreed to hold off on more pay bashing in exchange for winning Dayton’s compromise.
“Part of the deal is that the speaker agreed … there would be no more discussion this year about commissioner pay increases,” said Thissen.
The House and Senate are expected to bring the pay issue - along with the rest of the budget measure - to a joint House-Senate panel next week. Then the House and Senate will have to approve the measure again to send it to the governor for his signature.
“I would expect that it would be on the governor’s desk next week,” Bakk said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers will spend time picking over a nearly 200-page study Dayton commissioned on agency pay. That study by the Hay Group was just released Thursday afternoon.
Bakk said he looked forward to reading it.
“I believe that the governor’s raises are probably going to be warranted,” Bakk said, DFL-Cook.
Read the commissioners’ pay study at the Political Animal blog at bit.ly/MNSalaryStudy.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.