Minnesotans overwhelmingly voted to remove state legislators’ power to set their own salaries and handed that duty to a new citizen commission.
The lone constitutional amendment on ballots across the state received little attention in the lead-up to the election, but had won the support of a majority of voters Tuesday.
Advocates for the change said the new commission would allow for more objective decision-making about legislative pay and perhaps make it more likely that legislators could get a raise for the first time in nearly two decades. Since 1999, legislators’ salaries have been $31,140 per year — plus a per diem and reimbursements for expenses — largely because many lawmakers have been hesitant to vote for their own pay increases. At the $31,140 level, some legislators say they’re having a hard time recruiting good candidates, particularly from communities located far from the Capitol.
Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, one of the authors of the proposal, said the change resolves the “conflict of interest” of legislators setting their own pay.
“Our constituents did not send us to St. Paul to argue about or focus on their pay,” he said. “They sent us to St. Paul to focus on their concerns.”
Tuesday’s vote was a delayed result of a 2013 attempt by legislators to vote on a pay raise. A proposed salary increase passed in the Senate but failed in the House, eventually leading to a compromise in which the matter would be turned over to voters in the 2016 election in the form of a constitutional amendment.
There was no organized campaign for or against the proposal, but a few vocal opponents spoke up. They included Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, who said legislators should have to account for their own decisions on pay and that the constitutional amendment was a way to trick voters into giving legislators a raise.