Editorial: State pay hikes need rethinking

Published 9:00 am Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton are expected to examine this session whether they and other top state officials deserve raises.

The Legislative Coordinating Commission’s Compensation Council last week said raises should be in order for all these positions across all branches of government.

Honestly, that’s the first of many problems with this approach to raises. Today, though, let’s focus on the three biggest problems — failure to differentiate between elected and professional positions; using comparative measures instead of performance; and in the case of legislators, either gross misrepresentation or oversight of their entire compensation package.

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There is a huge difference in job requirements and duties between the state’s elected officials — legislators, the governor, constitutional officers and judges — and its professional/executive ranks. (Think top leadership of agencies.)

In basic terms, most any legal adult resident of the state can serve as a legislator or governor. The same cannot be said of leaders of state agencies. Those positions typically require extensive experience. Many need advanced degrees and specialized licenses. As such, pay ranges should reflect requirements and, to some extent, the market.

The one state office that struggles with this approach is judges, who obviously require specialized training. Their pay ranges (and raises) should be treated more like professionals than elected officials.

No matter if elected or professional, though, all raises should be driven by performance against measurable goals.

Unfortunately, the council’s recommendation rests too heavily on comparisons — both to other states and private markets. The problems with that are many. Look no further than Minnesota having 201 legislators — about 60 more than the average-size legislature nationwide.

Really, though, pay raises no matter the job should be linked to meeting measurable goals, not keeping with the neighbors.

Finally, it’s misleading to cite only what legislators and the governor earn in take-home pay. The governor gets housing and other perks while legislators can (and many do) collect outrageous per diems, allowances for housing and mileage, and health and retirement benefits.

Remember, a session at most is six months long and these are public servants. Why should pay levels — not even counting perks — be so high that public servants have it equal to or better than other employees?

— St. Cloud Times, March 14

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