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House narrowly approves legislative pay measure

Posted by: Rachel E. Stassen-Berger under Minnesota campaigns, Minnesota legislature, Minnesota state senators, Democrats, Republicans Updated: May 8, 2014 - 4:57 PM

The Minnesota House on Thursday narrowly decided to name a constitutional amendment, planned for the 2016 ballot, as "Remove Lawmakers' Power to Set Their Own Pay."

The measure, if voters approve it, would give power over determining legislative pay over to a bipartisan council.

Giving the amendment the title may make it more attractive to voters. Whether or not this year's legislation becomes law, voters will still be asked to change the constitution to give pay decisions to a council.

The constitutional amendment question gained traction in 2013 after the DFL-controlled Senate gave slender approval to a pay increase for the next class of legislators.

In the face of resistance to that proposal and as part of the end-of-session bargaining, the House and Senate agreed to shift the burden of legislative salary decisions to a council.

The current Minnesota constitution says that, "The compensation of senators and representatives shall be prescribed by law," which gives lawmakers the responsibility to determine how much salary House and Senate members should earn.

As a result of the politics surrounding the idea of lawmakers lining their own pockets, with the exception of increases in expense payments, legislative salary has remained $31,500 a year since 1999.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the current system just doesn't work.

"It is a conflict of interest," Murphy said. "We think a professional council should do that."

"This is about increasing transparency for our constituents and turning over the authority to them,” said Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia and chief sponsor of the pay measure.

But House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, say the constitutional plan is a designed, "so Democrats can give themselves a pay raise."

"This just kind of puts the cherry on top of what I have seen here in the last two years," said Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth. "It's wrong and you are misleading the public."

The measure passed 69-63.

If the bill approved Thursday becomes law, in two years voters will be asked to decide whether the Minnesota Constitution should "be amended to remove state lawmakers’ power to set their own salaries, and instead establish an independent, citizens-only council to prescribe salaries for lawmakers?” The measure would also adjust the design of the salary council.

Whether or not this year's bill becomes law, voters will be asked a similar constitutional question because of the measure the Legislature approved last year.

The measure lawmakers put on the ballot in 2013 would ask: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove legislators' ability to set their own salaries, and instead establish an independent, citizens-only council to prescribe salaries for legislators?"

Photo: House vote on Thursday's pay measure.

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