With an insider’s eye, Hot Dish tracks the tastiest bits of Minnesota’s political scene and keep you up-to-date on those elected to serve you.

Contributors in Minnesota: Patrick Condon, J. Patrick Coolican, Patricia Lopez, Ricardo Lopez, Abby Simons, and Glen Stubbe. Contributors in D.C.: Allison Sherry, Jim Spencer and intern Beena Raghavendran.

Posts about Minnesota state senators

Metzen amendment would allow day-of-session fundraising

Posted by: J. Patrick Coolican Updated: February 17, 2015 - 3:12 PM

Sen. James Metzen, DFL-South St. Paul, offered up an amendment to a campaign finance bill today that would allow legislators to raise money on the first day of a legislative session before it begins and on the last day of the session post sine die. 

The bill, authored by Sen. Jim Carlson, makes numerous changes to campaign finance and ethics law. It would define a "regular session," during which legislators could not raise money from lobbyists, to include the entire first day and the entire last day of each annual session. 

But Metzen's oral amendment would strip out that language and allow, for instance, legislators to have coffee-and-doughnut breakfast fundraisers with lobbyists on the first day of a legislative session before gaveling in, traditionally around noon.

The amendment and the bill passed the Senate Rules Commitee.  

Bakk reacts to Dayton blowup: 'I'm not going to get into a tit-for-tat'

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: February 16, 2015 - 1:35 PM

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk on Monday sought to downplay his public dispute with Gov. Mark Dayton, who last week criticized his fellow DFLer as "conniving" and a "backstabber." 

"If the governor wants to make it personal, he can," Bakk said Monday, in his first substantial public comments since Dayton's surprise blowup last week. "But I'm not going to get into a tit for tat, personal attacks back and forth. It's just not my style."

 

Standing before a mass of reporters and cameras after a Senate floor session, Bakk, DFL-Cook, did show some umbrage at the governor's suggestion he can't be trusted. "I've built a pretty strong image around here of being someone who's candid and honest," Bakk said. 

The relationship between the two powerful DFLers, never too warm, soured in a big way after Dayton's recent decision to hike pay for 23 of his cabinet officers by as much as $35,000 a year. In total the raises amount to about $800,000 a year in additional state spending, and Dayton got the authority to make them from a 2013 law change that Bakk and other DFLers backed. 

Last week, in the face of harsh criticism from Republicans over the raises, Bakk successfully pushed a Senate floor amendment to delay the raises until July 1. That prompted Dayton's open ire, apparently because the governor believed he had an agreement with Bakk to resolve the matter a different way. 

Bakk said the day before the Senate vote, he laid out for Dayton several possible scenarios for how the Senate would respond to the pay raises.

"The governor wasn't asked to pick one of the options that I laid out to him," Bakk said. But he took exception to Dayton's description that he was "blindsided." 

"I think that's incorrect," Bakk said. He said he believes the salary increases will probably prove to be justified, but he thinks Dayton might have considered making them in three smaller steps rather than all at once. 

Last week, Dayton said he would no longer deal with Bakk one-on-one. Bakk sought to minimize the ramifications of that in relation to the DFL's ability to pursue an ambitious legislative agenda this year. 

"My office has already had a couple conversations with his office over the last couple days. We'll see where it goes from there," Bakk said. 

The pay raise fight is now enmeshed with a stopgap spending bill moving through the legislative process. With the pay raise delay attached to the Senate's version of that bill, the focus now shifts to the state House which could act on the matter this week. Republicans who now hold the House majority have been highly critical of the raises, but Dayton has threatened to veto the stopgap bill if it includes the pay raise delay. 

Dayton, who made a brief appearance in the Capitol on Monday, told reporters he had little more to say about the dustup for the time being. 

"We both have a job to do for the people of Minnesota and it's imperative we do that job constructively together, and that's my expectation," Dayton said. But asked if his issues with Bakk could be settled, Dayton responded, "I don't know." 

Pay raise dispute leads to bitter blowup between Dayton, Bakk

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: February 12, 2015 - 5:50 PM

(This post has been updated)

The two most powerful DFLers at the state Capitol had a bitter, public falling-out on Thursday as Gov. Mark Dayton accusing Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of "stabbing me in the back" amid an ongoing controversy over pay raises for state agency commissioners. 

That came hours after the DFL-led Senate voted overwhelmingly Thursday to delay those salary hikes until July 1. 

Dayton's rebuke of Bakk at a late afternoon news conference was unusually harsh. It followed Bakk's successful charge on the Senate floor earlier in the day to delay until July 1 Dayton's recent raises, which total $800,000 in additional pay per year to his 23 cabinet officers. 

Dayton said he was strongly opposed to delaying the raises, and also said Bakk's maneuver came without warning. 

"I'm very disappointed because I thought my relationship with Senator Bakk has always been positive and professional," Dayton said at an afternoon news conference. "I certainly learned a brutal lesson today that I can't trust him, can't believe what he says to me, and that he connives behind my back." 

Through a spokeswoman, Bakk released a statement declining further comment except to suggest that he believed Dayton misunderstood their discussions about the pay issue. 

Dayton's raises, which total about $800,000 in additional state spending per year, "most likely are warranted," Bakk said in a Senate floor speech. "But I think the challenge is, those of us in the Legislature and the public haven't had the opportunity to have a discussion about how pay has lagged for these department heads." 

Under Bakk's amendment, which senators attached to a stopgap spending measure, Dayton would regain the authority to dole out the raises on July 1. 

"Might he do it differently? That's yet to be seen," Bakk said. 

Bakk's amendment passed 63-2, with just two DFL senators dissenting: Patricia Torres Ray of Minneapolis and Sandra Pappas of St. Paul. Republicans backed Bakk's move, but were unsuccessful in passing a more aggressive amendment that would have yanked the pay raises and Dayton's authority to make them entirely. 

"I don't see why anybody in this body would not want to reassert our legislative authority," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville. 

House Republicans have also sought to undermine the pay raises in recent days, with that body's version of the stopgap spending bill also including a provision subtracting money from several agency budgets that's equal to the amount those department commissioners got in original pay. 

Dayton said if the House adopts the Senate changes to the stopgap spending bill, he will veto it. 

Dayton has bristled at House Republican criticism of the raises, noting numerous House employees make similar salaries. He has defended the raises as necessary to attract top talent to his administration. 

Bakk: 'Reservations about the size' of Dayton's cabinet pay hikes

Posted by: Patrick Condon Updated: February 11, 2015 - 7:45 PM

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk expressed what he called "reservations" Wednesday about the size of pay increases that Gov. Mark Dayton, his fellow DFLer, recently granted to his state agency commissioners. 

"I share the concern to retain and recruit exceptional talent for our state workforce, and while these increases may be warranted, I would prefer an incremental and measured implementation," Bakk said in a prepared statement.

For several days Bakk, DFL-Cook, had declined comment on the brewing dispute between Dayton and House Republicans over the governor's move to boost pay for commissioners by a total of about $800,000 a year, with some commissioners seeing their yearly salary raised by $35,000. But Senate Democrats discussed the raises at a caucus meeting late Wednesday night, after which Bakk released his statement to reporters. 

Bakk said he agrees with Dayton that "state salaries should be more proportionate to the private sector pay scale. However, while I respect the Governor's discretion granted by Article III of the Minnesota Constitution, I have reservations about the size of the commissioner's salary increases." 

The pay fight is likely to come up on the Senate floor Thursday during a planned debate over a stopgap spending bill. In the House, Republicans attached a provision to their own version of that bill that tries to block Dayton's raises from several of the commissioners. However, it's far from certain that legislators have the authority to undo Dayton's raises. 

Dayton and House Republicans have traded jabs over the pay boosts in recent days. While Republicans have called them excessive, Dayton accused Republicans of hypocrisy by noting that a handful of state House employees at similar pay levels have also received recent raises. 

Wage-theft bill to be introduced would help deter practice, create penalties

Posted by: Ricardo Lopez Updated: February 11, 2015 - 3:36 PM

DFL lawmakers plan to introduce legislation that would create civil and criminal penalties for unscrupulous employers convicted of wage theft, a problem that disproportionately affects low-wage and immigrant workers, labor advocates said Wednesday.

In a news conference, the Minnesota AFL-CIO, a state labor federation, said that the bill would provide an avenue for workers to recoup back wages and send a message to employers who skimp on overtime, fail to pay employees for all hours worked or issue incomplete final paychecks.

"Wage theft is a real issue," said Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, the bill's sponsor in the House. "It's disheartening and time to fix the problem."

Labor advocates said that nationally, wage theft costs employees $30 billion annually, according to a 2014 Economic Policy Institute report. No data on Minnesota was immediately available. 

Robin Pikala, a home care worker from Minneapolis, said Wednesday that she is owed $2,000 for hours she worked and that the process to recoup back wages was lengthy and taxing for low-income workers. 

Asked about the legislation, Gov. Dayton said he hadn't heard much about the issue.

"It’s the first I’ve heard of that concern or the legislation around it. I’d want to talk to Commissioner Ken Peterson (Department of Labor and Industry) to see what his take on it is," Dayton told reporters later. "If people are not being paid wages that are owed them, then I think that’s something we should do something about.”

The bill, which is yet to be formally introduced, would triple the amount of any back wages owed to employees. Currently, employees are entitled to double the amount if an employer is found to be skimping on pay.

Among other provisions, the bill would extend the statute of limitations to six years for wage-theft complaints, create criminal penalties for repeat offenders and would provide grants to community organization to educate workers on their rights and how to recoup wages.

Star Tribune staff writer Patrick Condon contributed to this report.