Gov. Mark Dayton, incensed over Republican efforts to block what he called “modest” pay raises for state employees, lashed out this past week at legislators he said are “just against government, and against me.”
Dayton’s response at the outcome of a Thursday legislative committee meeting put on display an exasperated state chief executive who has had other high-profile clashes with the Legislature over pay raises.
A staunch defender of the public sector, including public school teachers, the governor frequently argues that competitive compensation for state workers is an important recruitment and retention tool.
A legislative subcommittee deadlocked last week on ratifying a handful of collective bargaining agreements covering employees represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 5, Middle Management Association and the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees.
The recently negotiated contracts call for raises of 2.5 percent across-the-board, this year and next. Some employees will be eligible for merit pay increases, but they will also pay more for their health care.
Despite the tie votes, state law will allow some of those contracts to take effect. The committee did approve a contract for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, on a 6-4 vote. A contract covering managerial and commissioners’ employees, however was not acted on, leaving those in limbo until next year.
“The decision to deny routine pay raises … is just a terrible, terrible decision, and a denial of good management principles for the executive branch,” he said at a news conference. “Most of them were there when I arrived, and they’ve done very capable to excellent work and so they’re part of these plans where they receive a 2.5 percent annual increase each year, and to be denied that on a partisan vote is just despicable.”
He added: “I have nothing but contempt for people” who are against government, adding that his administration is being targeted by Republicans hoping to score political points.
When Dayton earlier this year gave his commissioners pay raises, legislators of both parties criticized his decision. Dayton, however, staunchly defended the move, arguing that recruiting individuals from the private sector required having competitive salaries.
At Thursday’s meeting, state pension officials told legislators that they struggled to fill executive-level positions because qualified candidates can earn tens of thousands of dollars more each year in the private sector.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said his opposition to the contracts arose out of fairness. He argued that the inflation-adjusted median income for Minnesotans has stagnated, and that it’s unfair to ask taxpayers to pay more for state government salaries.
“The message here is that we have a government that’s out of touch with everyday, hardworking Minnesotans,” he said.