Minnesota lawmakers take the back pay after all

  • Article by: ERIC ROPER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 22, 2011 - 8:55 PM

Lawmakers claim pay for shutdown; most donate it.

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Rep. Roger Crawford, R-Mora

State officials on Monday released a list of state lawmakers who got back pay from the government shutdown, but it was money legislators said they were eager to unload.

Few other issues associated with the 20-day shutdown stoked as much constituent rage as lawmakers collecting paychecks while more than 20,000 state workers were furloughed. That public emotion was rekindled Monday when state officials revealed that 18 of the 50 House members who deferred pay were now seeking it retroactively.

That's on top of about 65 percent of the House members who opted to receive normal pay during the shutdown.

It leaves just 32 representatives who gave up their shutdown salaries altogether -- plus another lawmaker who abstained on Monday -- amounting to about $1,600 per member. Fourteen state senators declined their salaries during the shutdown, and none requested retroactive pay.

Nearly all legislators who took back pay said Monday they will donate it to local charities or give it back to the state. Others said they deferred it temporarily out of respect for state workers.

"I believed it wasn't right to receive a paycheck if others were not able to work through no fault of their own," wrote Rep. Roger Crawford, R-Mora, in an e-mail. "I haven't now changed my mind and chosen to take the pay. I have always said I was deferring pay during the shutdown but thought I should receive the pay after it ended."

The announcement Monday prompted a flurry of activity among lawmakers, some of whom were surprised to see their names on the list. Several said they received angry e-mails from constituents after news of the list became public.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she never intended to be paid for the shutdown and told the controller Monday to reduce her September pay by that amount. "I'm not getting paid for the days that we were shut down."

Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, requested Monday to receive half his allotment, noting he had neglected to file some relevant paperwork. Why 50 percent? He reasoned state workers received unemployment insurance.

"I'm trying to match as best I can how state employees were treated," Winkler said.

Some lawmakers had more detailed explanations. Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, said she donated the money back to the state via personal check since it would otherwise stay in a House account. She wanted it returned to the treasury .

"It's the only way that I could do this, because otherwise it sits in the House of Representatives slush fund," she said.

Rep. Kim Norton, DFL-Rochester, donated the money to a non-profit where she works. "Because of my legislative [work], I was unable to do my other job, which is working for a non-profit. And I felt I had harmed them."

Reps. Phyllis Kahn, Pat Garofalo, Chris Swedzinski, Paul Anderson, Mindy Greiling, Joe Mullery, Linda Slocum and Denise Dittrich are donating their pay, according to interviews and House DFL spokeswoman Carrie Lucking. Rep. Joe Atkins is using it to create a scholarship at Simley High School in Inver Grove Heights, Lucking said.

Rep. Terry Morrow, DFL-St. Peter, said he had used some of the money to pay his expenses to attend a conference in Washington, D.C. He plans to return the rest to the state.

Other lawmakers on the retroactive pay list include Reps. Steve Drazkowski, Carolyn Laine and Sheldon Johnson.

Eric Roper • 651-222-1210

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