Minnesota state senators are now earning a higher salary than state representatives.
As of July 1, the annual salary for the state's 67 senators increased from $31,140 to $45,000. The salary for 134 House members remains at $31,140.
The pay gap is the result of conflicting views House and Senate leaders have about a constitutional amendment on legislative salaries that voters approved in 2016.
The amendment took salary decisions away from lawmakers. It also established an independent Legislative Salary Council that made its initial recommendation for a pay raise back in March.
But lawmakers did not provide specific funding during the 2017 session to pay for the raises, and DFL Gov. Mark Dayton later line-item vetoed funding for the House and Senate in a dispute that is currently being fought in court. A judge ordered funding to continue at 2017 levels until Oct. 1, or when the case is resolved.
Still, the Senate implemented the pay raise recommendation while the House did not.
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“I have always said, when it’s a constitutionally directed mandate, that we are just going to follow that,” said Sen. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka. “I don’t see any way around it.”
Gazelka, R-Nisswa, stressed that he would have reduced salaries if that had been the council’s recommendation. He said a Senate hiring freeze will help make sure there’s enough money for the salaries.
“That’s the big measure that we implemented,” he said.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt has taken a different approach.
“I’ve been pretty vocal all along that I didn’t think this was the right way to handle a pay increase,” Daudt said.
Daudt, R-Zimmerman, directed the House controller back in March to not implement the council recommendation. He also did not pursue the funding necessary to pay for the raise. Daudt recently blamed Democrats for passing what he believes was flawed enabling language for the constitutional amendment.
“What they didn’t do was actually figure out how to pay the legislators,” he said. “So, they’ve put it onto my plate, that I need to put a bill in the Legislature that asks legislators to vote for their own pay increase. That was what this whole thing was supposed to eliminate. Well, I’m sorry. Legislators don’t want to do that.”
House Minority Leader Melissa Hortman rejects the speaker’s criticism. Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Daudt is the lone obstacle to the raises.
“I think it’s an issue that Speaker Daudt needs to take action to resolve," she said. "He’s the one who interceded in the action, and if there’s going to be a resolution he needs to take care of resolving the problem.”
A resolution could also come from a judge.
There's already a court case underway related to the pay issue. A watchdog group called the Association for Government Accountability filed a legal challenge aimed at ensuring all lawmakers receive the recommended pay raises.
Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann is currently considering the AGA lawsuit, as well as the separate funding dispute between the governor and Legislature.
Attorney Erick Kaardal presented the group’s argument during a court hearing last month.
“The people in 2016 voted for this constitutional amendment, and they expect their laws to be adhered to by all branches of the government.”