Minnesota lawmakers make about 31,000 a year, a salary that hasn't gone up since 1999. While their base pay hasn't changed, this session they hiked their per diem, an allowance used for meals and incidental costs incurred while the Legislature is in session. The House bumped the maximum per diem from $66- to $77-a-day, while the Senate rate went up to $96-a-day.
Sen.Geoff Michel, R-Edina, says that rate is too high.
"I don't know how we spend $96 on meals," he said. "That's a pretty healthy diet. And I'm not sure why Senators get $20 more than our House colleagues."
“You can't vote no and take the dough.”Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller
Michel voted "no" on the per diem boost, along with six of his Republican colleagues. The resolution stipulates that if the naysayers want to get per diem, they'll have to file paperwork requesting the money, instead of getting an automatic expense check.
Sen. Ray Vandeveer, R-Forest Lake, pushed for a floor vote on the expense increase, and he voted against it. He says he'll ask for per diem in writing - but not $96-a-day.
"I will take per diem at the same level as when I was hired," he said.
Vandeveer was elected to the Senate in November, when the per diem rate was $66-a-day. Sen. Dick Day, R-Owatonna, says lawmakers knew what the rate was when they ran for office, so they shouldn't expect more now.
"Just remember, they didn't send us here to raise our salary the first few weeks we're here," he said.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL- Minneapolis, defended the increase. He notes that it cleared the Senate Rules Committee by a unanimous bipartisan vote last month, and easily passed the Senate.
"Every member can choose zero to $96. And all but four members have chosen $96, and have collected two checks already," Pogemiller noted. "There has been absolutely no increase in per diem for I believe four, five, six years. This was simply an inflationary increase."
Pogemiller says requiring senators who voted no on the increase to file paperwork requesting per diem wasn't meant to be punitive or disrespectful. He says it's the only way to know whether opponents of the increase still want to collect per diem.
Lawmakers who aren't required to file the paperwork will receive the maximum expense amount seven days a week while the Legislature is in session, which looks to be until at least April this year.