Daudt orders House staff to block lawmaker raise

A standoff over a legislative pay raise reached a new level Thursday when Minnesota GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt ordered the House's budget office not to increase lawmaker paychecks as approved by an independent commission.

Daudt's memo appears to affect only the 134 House members. Leaders of the 67-member Senate haven't issued a similar decree and the Senate's majority leader said his chamber will not be following the House's lead.

The Legislative Salary Council decided last week to push lawmaker salaries from $31,000 a year to $45,000 a year starting in July, the first hike in base pay since 1999. The council was established through a constitutional amendment last fall; its decision was supposed to be final.

But it was up to the Legislature to come up with the money. Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said only lawmakers have power to release the funds.

“House Republicans are working hard to pass common-sense policies aimed at growing good-paying jobs for Minnesotans. Middle-class families’ needs must come first – tax relief, lower health care costs, improved roads and bridges, and strong schools. We are choosing not to fund the Council’s recommendation to increase salaries for members of the House,” Daudt said in a news release.

Daudt directed the House controller to keep salaries at their current level.

Conservatives had begun to stir up pressure on Republican leaders to block the pay increase. Daudt is considered a possible 2018 candidate for governor.

Despite Daudt's stand, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he thinks the constitutional mandate on lawmaker pay is “pretty clear.”

“The people voted by large margins to have an outside group determine the salaries, and now it is directly directed by the constitution,” Gazelka said.

Gazelka played devil’s advocate and mused about a different outcome.

“I think if you took it the other way, and they said you should have a lower salary, we couldn’t have fought that either. It’s constitutionally directed, I’m moving on to dealing with the budget, to fixing health care, roads and bridges.”

Because the Senate is half the size, the budget impact is half as big. The Senate raise would cost just under $1 million a year.

Daudt said he told Gazelka he has no intention of approving an appropriation that covers the cost of a Senate raise. Gazelka said he thinks the money will be automatically drawn from the Legislature's budget.

"I think when voters decide something it is our job to honor that decision," said Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, who sponsored the 2013 bill that put the pay measure on last year’s ballot.

Daudt should expect to be sued, said Metsa, perhaps by a voter who clearly wanted the pay issue completely removed from legislative politics.

“What voters said on the ballot was take the pay issue out of the Legislature, let us do it as citizens, tell you what we think your job was worth and don’t bicker about it. They wanted a Legislature that was diverse and was representative about all walks of life in the state.”

MPR News reporter Tim Pugmire contributed to this report.

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