(With Jim Spencer and Rachel E. Stassen-Berger)
There’s a new name at the pinnacle of political donors from Minnesota: Minneapolis attorney and entrepreneur Michael Snow.
Minnesota House staffers will be getting their first across-the-board pay raise since 2008.
The House Committee on Rules and Legislative Administration voted Tuesday to institute a series of pay raises for the House's 225 staffers over the next three years, along with opportunity for merit pay increases. Lawmakers also increased the combined budgets of its committees and the Republican minority caucus to $287,000.
"You hire good people and you treat them well," said Rep. Leon Lillie, DFL-North St. Paul, before the 14-6 committee in favor of the staff raises. Several of the committee's Republican members voted against the measure.
The vote means that permanent House staffers who have been at their jobs since Jan. 1, 2011 will get a lump sum salary adjustment of 3.5 percent, adjusting their 2012 salary upwards by 3.5 percent. Permanent employees will also see a 2 percent general pay increase for 2013, 2014 and 2015. Temporary employees will also be eligible for pay increases, starting in 2014. Employees with good performance evaluations would also be eligible for merit pay increase of between 3.5 percent and those with excellent evaluations could be eligible for merit pay increases of up to 4 percent.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, balked at the cost of the raises -- $2.8 million in 2014-15 alone. She noted that some employees, if they received every possible wage and merit pay increase, could see their salaries increase by 17.5 percent by 2015.
But Democrats on the committee pointed out that the cost of living has gone up since 2008, while legislative salaries have remained flat. The increase, they said, would bring House salaries in line with the executive branch and allow lawmakers to recruit and retain the best workers for the job.
The vote does not affect salaries for state Senate staffers. The Senate rules committee has not yet scheduled a hearing to discuss salary issues.
The Rules Committee also signed off on larger budgets for House committees. Last session, feeling the budget crunch, committees operated with a $158,000 budget, and only ended up using $79,000 of that total. The committee budget for the rest of the 2013-14 session will be $287,000.
Republicans objected, questioning why the increase was necessary. House Majority Leader Erin Murphy noted that previous legislatures, both Republican and Democratic, had committee budgets two or three times as large. Any unused portion of the committee budget is returned to the House coffers at the end of the session.
Anderson questioned specific committee budgets: Why did Ways and Means get an $8,000 increase in its budget? Why would newly-created DFL committees, like the Select Committee on Living Wage Jobs, need a budget of $7,000.
The majority of the money, she was told, will go to pay per diems and other expenses to bring lawmakers into St. Paul for off-session hearings like the one the rules committee held Tuesday, or to allow lawmakers to hold field hearings around the state to give far-flung communities a chance to participate. Just bringing all 30-plus members of the Ways and Means Committee together for a summer hearing costs almost $2,000 in lawmaker per diems.
The committee budgets, including a $50,000 budget for the GOP caucus, passed by a vote of 11-9, with Republicans voting against.
Minnesota brought in $1.4 billion into the state coffers in May, 1.9 percent higher than the February forecast had estimated.
So far this year, the state has raised $324 million more in net general fund revenues than expected. The results are preliminary and could change when the final tax payments are calculated in July.
Preliminary estimates from Minnesota Management and Budget found income and corporate tax revenue up for the month, balancing out a slight dip in sales tax revenue.
Gov. Mark Dayton signed a $2.1 billion tax bill into law Thursday, along with a host of other bills passed in the final hours of the session.
Along with the new tax bill - which includes a $1.60-per-pack hike in cigarette taxes and tax increases on the wealthiest Minnesotans -- Dayton also signed off on the massive $11.3 billion Health and Human Services budget, a jobs bill, the veterans services budget and a host of other provisions passed in the final days of the legislative session.
Other provisions signed into law Thursday afternoon included: the omnibus data practices bill; the public safety finance bill; the omnibus retirement bill; the Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance and Policy bill, the transportation finance bill, and changes to state elections policies.