Politics and Government

Pay bumps ahead for governor, judges and other state leaders

People speak during a press conference
Attorney General Keith Ellison and Gov. Tim Walz are among the officials who will get raises if the Legislature adopts the recommendations of a bipartisan council.
Evan Frost | MPR News 2020

Top state officials and judges are slated to get back-to-back raises if Minnesota lawmakers follow through on recommendations of a bipartisan council. 

The salary increases, some of which were folded into a budget bill at the Capitol on Monday, include the first raises for the governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state auditor and lieutenant governor since 2016. 

The Compensation Council, whose 16 members are appointed by the chief justice of the state supreme court and the governor, recommended the pay hikes in a final report issued Friday. The panel’s report says pay for all of the positions have lagged inflation and salary levels in peer states. 

“This Council, like others before it, believes that a fair and adequate compensation system is an important element in ensuring that good candidates will seek and serve in these offices,” Chair Samuel Kaplan and Vice Chair Nick Zerwas said in a joint letter to lawmakers.

The governor’s pay would rise this July and next to an eventual $149,550 from $127,629 now. The others would also see 9 percent more this year and 7.5 percent the next.

Among Minnesota’s neighbors, only the South Dakota governor makes less at $118,728. Wisconsin pays its governor $152,756.

Judicial pay, where Minnesota tends to pay more than adjacent states, would also go up in two stages after last rising in 2021.

Once rolled into a separate bill and fully implemented, district court judges would make about $196,000 and seats on the Supreme Court would pay at least $221,000, with more for the chief justice.

The pending increases have caused another partisan rift at the Capitol, echoing past debates that caused a salary standstill in prior years.

“We are doing a lot of catch-up for people who have done a lot of damn good work for the people of Minnesota,” said Senate State and Local Government and Veterans Committee Chair Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.

Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, said there are managerial positions inside of government and the private sector that pay more, which should prompt lawmakers to bring salaries into better balance.

“This is a normal thing that we should be doing to ensure that we have the best people in our positions and that they are compensated for the work that they do,” she said.

But Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the optics are bad.

“Certainly it looks like Democrats are taking care of themselves in this amendment and eventually in this bill, by giving huge salary increases to Democrat politicians in the state of Minnesota,” he said ahead of a party-line vote to include the constitutional officer raises in a broader budget measure.

Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, said the overarching proposed budget for state government is too costly.

“Folks, it’s just not sustainable,” he said. “I'm just telling you: Something is going to crash. And it's going to crash hard by increasing spending by this much.”

Murphy, the committee chair, responded by trying to add context.

“There's more one-time funding than ongoing funding in this budget, in part because we didn't finish the budget last year,” she said. “And we left a lot of work on the table last year.”

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