Dayton defends raises for cabinet members

Published 9:00 am Sunday, February 8, 2015

Republicans criticize commissioner pay hikes

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton dismissed complaints about tens of thousands of dollars in raises for members of his cabinet Friday, saying there should be no controversy over the issue.

Republicans have criticized the pay hikes for commissioners and agency heads — more than $900,000 in all — as exorbitant for top government officials, most of whom already make more than $100,000 annually.

But the Democratic governor said those positions haven’t seen raises in more than a decade, and he’s lost talented employees to local governments and other entities with better pay.

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“If people don’t want the best people in Minnesota to be in leadership positions in state government, we just have a fundamental disagreement,” Dayton said.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the raises are excessive and could put pressure on the administration to offer raises to rank-and-file employees, too. Public employee unions are just starting to bargain with the state over new two-year contracts.

“When they see there is significant dollars added to the people at the top of the food chain, the others are going to say what about us?” Hann said.

House State Government Finance Chairwoman Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said she intends to hold hearings next week on the raises. She’s concerned they extend below the top spots at departments and could involve deputies and other agency managers.

“We need to dig in to see how far did this extend,” Anderson said, adding that legislators could seek restrictions on executive branch pay during upcoming budget negotiations.

A Department of Minnesota Management and Budget spokesman said the raises were limited to commissioners and agency heads.

Dayton increased his cabinet’s wages under a 2013 law that upped the caps on members’ salaries. Some of the biggest boosts went to the heads of the departments of public safety, natural resources and transportation, which each saw $35,475 increases and will make about $155,000 each. Each of the five commissioners of the state Public Utilities Commission also received about $32,000 in raises.

Metropolitan Council Chairman Adam Duininck saw the biggest raise — from about $61,000 to almost $145,000. But his predecessors only worked part time.

Rank-and-file legislators make $31,000 a year and haven’t seen a pay raise in more than 15 years. Voters will decide in 2016 whether an independent board should be created to set legislator pay.