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7 questions about that ballot question you may have missed

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Testing the election equipment.
Joan Curtis (center) examines a test ballot and Merle Davis works through a checklist as election officials conduct a public election equipment test in northeast Minneapolis.
Tim Nelson | MPR News

Because of all the noise around the races for president, Congress and the state Legislature, you may have missed an item on the Minnesota ballot that asks voters to make a change to the state constitution.

Voters will decide whether to revise the way state lawmaker pay is set: 

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove state lawmakers' power to set their own salaries, and instead establish an independent, citizens-only council to prescribe salaries of lawmakers?"

Don't worry, you're not alone if you don't know much about how the proposed amendment would work or why it's on the ballot in the first place.  Here's a refresher.

1) What would the amendment do?

It would set up a 16-member council to determine legislative salaries every two years — keeping it the same, raising it or lowering it. In doing so, it would alter the current practice of leaving that decision up to the Legislature and governor to set pay. Now, any change in pay takes effect after the following election.

2) How much do state legislators get paid?

Rank-and-file legislators earn $31,140 per year, with caucus leaders getting a slight supplement for their extra duties. But lawmakers can also collect daily expenses allowances when in session — $86 per day in the Senate and $66 per day in the House — as well as housing and technology allowances. Minnesota's Legislature is considered part-time so many lawmakers hold down other jobs.

3) How does that compare to other states?

Minnesota ranks 19th of the 39 states where lawmakers earn an annual salary, according to a survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures

California lawmakers have the largest salaries at $100,113. Among Minnesota's neighbors, Wisconsin legislators earn $50,950, Iowa legislators have a $25,000 base pay and South Dakota legislators get $6,000 per session. North Dakota legislators are paid a daily rate. 

4) When was the last time they got a raise?

Salaries have been static since 1999, leading some to worry that low pay is pricing out some potential candidates for public office. Advisory councils have recommended pay increases as recently as 2013. But lawmakers have either done nothing or have failed to get a pay-increase bill to the governor's desk.

5) Who would sit on that council and how would they be chosen?

Half of the 16 members would be chosen by the governor and half would be selected by the Supreme Court chief justice. They would come from each of the state's congressional districts. Membership would be equally divided between the two dominant political parties — the DFL and Republican Parties in this case. Appointees could not be current or past lawmakers, registered lobbyists, employees of the Legislature, current or former judges, anyone who has held a statewide constitutional office or someone who is the spouse of a sitting lawmaker.

6) What's the argument against the amendment?

People opposed to the measure say raising legislator pay should be difficult and the decision-makers should be accountable to voters. The citizens' council would not be publicly accountable, which might make it politically easier to increase salaries. Other foes say they're uncomfortable with a council made up of prescribed partisan appointees.

7) So does a simple majority decide this?

Yes, but there's a hitch. It must be a simple majority of everyone voting in the election. That means that people who skip the question are counted as having voted "no."