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State lawmakers question timing of pay raises

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Republican state lawmakers criticized Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration Thursday for its handling of a batch of local government pay raises.

Officials at Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) recently notified members of the Legislative Coordinating Commission (LCC) that they were allowing salary cap waivers for positions in Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, St. Louis and Scott Counties. Positions for the city of Rochester and the Metropolitan Council were also included.

State law caps the pay for local government jobs at $171,338, unless a waiver is granted.

Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, is chair of the LCC subcommittee on employee relations, which has an oversight role on such waivers. O’Neill accused the administration of pushing through big raises without proper legislative vetting.

“They have just usurped that entire process and told the Legislature this is what we’re going to do,” O’Neill said. “It’s not following the statutory procedures at all.”

MMB Commissioner Myron Frans disputed O’Neill’s claim. He said the LCC was notified of the compensation limit increases by letter on Dec. 5, which allowed a 30-day window for the panel to meet and offer recommendations before the new salary limits take effect on Jan. 5. No meeting has been scheduled.

Frans stressed that the action does not raise the salaries but allows local officials to raise them.

“If you go to the local jurisdictions and ask them, then you’ll find out why it’s important that they pay a county administrator a certain number," Frans said. “I’m surprised that people don’t respect the local decisions that are being made here.”

The new salary limits include some significant increases. For example, the limit for Hennepin County administrator would go to $250,100 and deputy administrator would be $217,300. The salary limit for the general manager of Metro Transit would rise to $297,250.

WCCO-TV first reported on the pay increases.

Gov. Dayton, who leaves office next month, told WCCO Radio Thursday that he was caught off guard by the MMB action.

“I’m as surprised as anybody to learn about that one,” Dayton said. “I don’t know what the procedure was there. But sometimes people do things without my full knowledge.”

Frans said there was no reason to inform the governor. He said it is up to MMB, as part of a longstanding practice, to review and approve the local requests.

The new salary limits will go into effect before DFL Gov. Tim Walz takes office. But Rep. O’Neill still wrote a letter to Walz asking him to intervene.

“My request is that you use your influence with a commissioner you are going to re-appoint to put a pause on the current salary waiver process,” she wrote.

Another legislator, Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, is pressing Walz for details on how much he plans to pay his commissioners. Walz would need legislative approval to pay them above current levels.

Walz told reporters Thursday that he is not proposing changes.

“There is no intention of going back at that at this time,” Walz said.