House GOP takes aim at Dayton over pay hikes

Republicans in the Minnesota House are fighting back against the recent salary increases that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton gave his commissioners.

Members of the House Ways and Means Committee reduced a funding bill for several state agencies today by the same amount that three commissioners will get in additional salary this fiscal year. Allocations were cut by$16,000 for the Department of Health, $6,000 for the Department of Human Services and $18,000 for the Department of Natural Resources.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said he wanted to send a message to those three commissioners, whom he accused of mismanaging their budgets.

“When we pay you very good money, we expect you to manage your agencies, so that we’re not coming forward with these type of additional requests,” Drazkowski said.

Ways and Means Chair Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, supported the amendment. Knoblach said lawmakers should have been told about the raises when the department heads were asking for budget help.

“No one had informed us of these additional raises, until we found about it last Thursday,” Knoblach said. “I guess I think we should have been informed if some of the money that we are appropriating to these departments is in fact in a sort of backhanded way going to salary increases.”

Dayton’s action on salaries was authorized by the previous Legislature and based on the recommendations for a bipartisan panel on compensation.

In a letter to legislators, Gov. Dayton repeated his contention that the salary bumps were long overdue, and necessary to keep and attract talented people.

“I want to make it clear that none of my commissioners have ever complained to me about their salaries," Dayton wrote. "Not one has ever asked me for a raise. But they, like other working Minnesotans, deserve compensation that is commensurate with their responsibilities.”

Democrats on the committee took issue with Drazkowksi’s accusation of mismanagement.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, noted that minutes earlier committee members had praised the health commissioner for his response last year to the Ebola threat.

“I certainly don’t think there’s any mismanagement there that we should enact this as some kind of a punishment," Liebling said. "I think that’s very irresponsible to put it forward in that way.”

House Republicans were also planning other steps to fight back against the pay hikes. Rep. Roz Peterson, R-Lakeville, was set to introduce a bill to require legislative approval for some executive branch salaries.

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