Dayton: MN commissioner pay raises average $20K

Mark Dayton
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton in May.
Jeff Wheeler | Star Tribune via AP

Updated 1:20 p.m. | Posted 8:39 a.m.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton on Wednesday unveiled big salary increases for commissioners and department heads in his administration.

Earlier this year, Dayton announced salary increases of more than $800,000 for more than two dozen top administrators, but he scaled back the raises after lawmakers criticized the plan.

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The Legislature instead granted Dayton the authority to grant the raise on July 1.

Dayton said in an interview with MPR News host Cathy Wurzer Wednesday morning that the raises are very similar to what he proposed in January. He said the average raise will be about $20,000.

Details made available later showed some commissioners will now make nearly $155,000 a year. They include the heads of Minnesota's natural resources, budget, human services, public safety and revenue departments.

"It's a lot of money, it's more money than most Minnesotans make," Dayton said. "But these are very talented people who have the ability to command these salaries — in fact, higher salaries — in the public sector elsewhere, even in Minnesota."

The governor faced criticism from both Republicans and some members of his own party over the raises.

Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said the raises will be an issue on the campaign trail.

While Dayton isn't running again, Daudt said Democrats will have to defend the fact that they voted in 2013 to give Dayton authority to raise commissioner pay when most Minnesotans are seeing relatively stagnant wages.

"Those are the same people who will be seeking confidence from Minnesota voters, asking to be reelected to the House so that they can represent Minnesotans," he said. "I think they've already failed Minnesotans."

House State Government Finance Chair Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, pointed out in a recent letter to Dayton that many Minnesotans have seen their own earnings stagnate.

"Please take into consideration the hardworking Minnesota taxpayers who are still struggling to make ends meet and would be alarmed to see your commissioners receive salary increases equivalent to many Minnesotans' annual pay," she wrote.

Dayton defended the salary increases, arguing that an outside consultant found that earnings for these administrators in Minnesota were lower than in most other states.

"It's a convenient target for anti-government partisans who don't understand the complexities to run effective public service programs, and who frankly don't care," Dayton said. "There's a need to be competitive, to attract the best talent, to keep them once they're here and successful."

State Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and some other DFLers have also opposed the raises in the past.

Dayton said since he's not running again for reelection, he isn't worried about political fallout. He said he takes complete responsibility for the raises.

Updated pay for commissioners, by department

• Administration, $144,991
• Agriculture, $144,991
• Commerce, $144,991
• Corrections, $150,002
• Education, $150,002
• Employment and Economic Development, $150,002
• Health, $150,002
• Housing Finance, $144,991
• Human Rights, $144,991
• Human Services, $154,992
• Labor and Industry, $144,991
• Management and Budget, $154,992
• Natural Resources, $154,992
• Higher Education, $144,991
• Pollution Control, $150,002
• Public Safety, $154,992
• Revenue, $154,992
• Transportation, $154,992
• Veterans Affairs, $144,991

Salaries for other department heads

• Commissioner, Bureau of Mediation Services, $140,000
• Executive director, Gambling Control Board, $119,997
• Commissioner, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board, $140,000
• Chair, Metropolitan Council, $144,991
• School Trust Lands Director, $125,009
• Ombudsman for Mental Health & Developmental Disabilities, $119,997
• Commissioner, Public Utilities Commission, $140,000
• Executive Director of Pari-mutuel Racing, $115,988