Pay raises for Minnesota lawmakers won approval Tuesday from the state Senate, but the plan to boost salaries of the governor, Legislature, agency commissioners and other elected officials faces a taller climb in the state House.
Five Democrats from swing districts joined all Republicans in voting against the bigger state agency finance bill that includes the raises. No one attempted to strip out the proposed raises and there was no debate about its inclusion in a budget bill that narrowly passed 34-32.
Minnesota hasn't increased pay for elected officials since the late 1990s. The governor makes $120,000 and legislators earn $31,000. Under the plan, the governor would see two 3 percent raises, and legislators would earn one third of the governor's salary going forward. That would result in a nearly $10,000 raise in 2015 and another bump the next year. After that, raises would be automatic because the governor would receive inflationary increases annually.
Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, was initially on the electronic voting board in opposition but switched at the last minute to ensure passage. He told reporters later that the veterans benefits and other measures included in the broader bill were too important to hold up.
"When I saw that the votes weren't there to pass the bill, I thought it wasn't worth sacrificing all the other very good parts of the bill," Eken said.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said his caucus contemplated removing the pay raises but decided to move ahead. He argues that the stagnant pay has made holding office less attractive and could eventually lead to a Legislature where only retirees or those with personal wealth can serve.
"It's a tough vote. It's never easy to take a vote to raise your own pay," Bakk said.
The five Democrats who voted against the bill were: Greg Clausen of Apple Valley, Kevin Dahle of Northfield, John Hoffman of Champlin, Vicki Jensen of Owatonna and Susan Kent of Woodbury.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the state's budget troubles aren't the best backdrop for lawmakers to be discussing higher pay. "Most people I know don't think we're overpaid," he said.
But Hann and Assistant Minority Leader Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, said they would both accept any raises that are enacted. "We live by tax laws we don't agree with, we live by other laws we don't agree with," Hann said.
Dayton has said he would forgo any raise even though he supports upping salary levels. The pay raises would also benefit agency managers, in part by wiping away a law that limits them from making more than the governor.
"The Legislature, I believe, is terribly underpaid," Dayton said, calling for an even bigger legislator raise. "A part-time Legislature is a long ago myth."
Page 2 of 2 - The Senate vote assures pay hikes will be part of end-of-session negotiations next month. House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, has said House leaders don't consider lawmaker pay a priority and aren't eager to act on it.
The state constitution dictates that no legislative pay increase can take effect until after the following House election, which in this case is 2014. Pay raises would begin in January 2015.