Editorial: Court should settle pay issue at Legislature

Published 9:47 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Minnesota’s new constitutionally created Legislative Salary Council has struggled to win respect from some of the people whose pay it seeks to raise — House Republican legislators.

That’s why this bit of national recognition caught our eye: The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) this month presented its Notable Documents Award to the council’s final report. It explained well its decision to set legislators’ salaries at $45,000 per year, up from $31,140, the level the Legislature set for itself in 1997 and imposed in 1999. The report also argued for elimination of per diem, a move the council said it lacked the authority to impose on its own.

That report may have been a winner with NCSL, but it hasn’t won over the GOP majority in the Minnesota House. A spokeswoman for Speaker Kurt Daudt said last week that the House does not intend to do the council’s bidding. The GOP-controlled Senate has not followed the House’s lead; its leaders have said that the voters’ transfer of salary-setting power to the council should not be blocked.

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We consider the House’s decision constitutionally dubious. But a larger constitutional crisis has overtaken it. At 10 a.m. Monday in Ramsey County District Court, a judge will hear arguments on the Legislature’s lawsuit challenging Gov. Mark Dayton’s line-item veto of the entire legislative budget.

Those arguments lost some of their urgency late Friday, when Dayton and GOP legislators announced that they had jointly asked the court to continue funding for the Legislature for 90 days while their legal argument proceeds. Presuming the court agrees, that would lift for now the threat of a disruptive shutdown of all but the nonpartisan Legislative Coordinating Commission within a few weeks.

That would be a welcome reprieve. But it would not settle the larger constitutional dispute that Dayton’s veto triggered. We hope the pay raise question isn’t lost in that fight — and thanks to a separate suit by a watchdog group, it likely won’t be. Taken together, the suits call on the judicial branch of state government to order the executive and legislative branches to operate within the guardrails set by the state Constitution. That’s a call we think many Minnesotans would join.

— Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 23

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