Fischbach gets lieutenant governor title, declines pay for job

New Lieutenant Gov. Michelle Fischbach leaves the Advisory Committee on Capitol Security. In her new role she'll serve on the panel, but Fischbach says she'll try to keep her state Senate post. Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Posted 1:15 p.m. | Updated 3:40 p.m.

New Minnesota Lt. Gov. Michelle Fischbach’s first act was to turn down the higher paycheck she is in line to collect, squaring with her intention to fight to keep her Senate job along with the one she didn't want but couldn't avoid.

Fischbach, a Paynesville Republican, automatically became DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s lieutenant governor at midnight. It coincided with the resignation of Tina Smith, who was sworn in Wednesday as a U.S. senator. Fischbach ascended because she is the state Senate president.

Describing herself as “Acting Lieutenant Governor” while signing a letter “State Senator,” Fischbach is working to keep a foot in both branches of government. Democrats say she should give up her Senate seat, which would touch off a special election in the closely divided chamber.

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Fischbach wrote to Dayton’s director of operations telling her that she was declining the lieutenant governor pay.

“The legal obligation for the state to offer the salary does not create a requirement that I accept it,” she wrote.

The lieutenant governor earns about $95,722 per year -- 65 percent of the governor’s salary -- while legislators make $45,000 plus various expense allowances.

Fischbach has three years remaining on her Senate term. The job as lieutenant governor runs for another year before a new administration takes over.

“The position of Lieutenant Governor has no constitutional duties and its authority is what is provided by the governor,” Fischbach said in a written statement. “I have had cordial conversations with Gov. Dayton and am looking forward to a positive relationship with him and his staff. I am confident I will be able to handle duties as both State Senator and Acting Lieutenant Governor through the remaining months of Gov. Dayton’s term.”

Fischbach attended a Capitol security task force that had been chaired by her predecessor, Smith, but didn't participate. Fischbach didn't speak with reporters as she left.

There could be a lawsuit filed over Fischbach’s attempt to serve in both capacities. Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, sent Fischbach a letter Wednesday congratulating her on the new job and urging her to "formally acknowledge that you no longer hold the office of state senator."

In an interview, Bakk said he had separation of powers concerns.

"You can't work and perform functions in two branches of government," Bakk said. He didn't indicate when a lawsuit would be filed if Fischbach doesn't step down from the Legislature.

Republicans point to an 1898 state Supreme Court argument that takes a different view.

The Legislature is set to convene on Feb. 20. Republicans currently have a 34-32 advantage, pending the outcome of a Feb. 12 special election in a district last represented by a DFLer.