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Hot Dish Politics

Tracking Minnesota’s political scene and keeping you up-to-date on those elected to serve you

Sen. Tom Bakk, Gov. Mark Dayton speaking today for first time in weeks

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said he had a call scheduled today with Gov. Mark Dayton, their first direct communication since the Legislature finished business June 13.

The icy relations between the two DFL veterans dominated the legislative session, beginning with a public feud over Dayton's decision to raise salaries of some of his commissioner by as much as $35,000, and accusations by Dayton that Bakk "stabbed me in the back."

The two were scheduled to discuss the storms that destroyed property in the Brainerd lakes region. If there's not enough money in state disaster response funds to help the region, Dayton may need to call a special legislative session to address the shortfall. 

The end of the session was rocky for Bakk, with many metro area DFL members protesting about an environment bill they thought was too kind to polluters and legislative process they said lacked transparency. Nevertheless, Bakk held on to his leadership post. 

Bakk said he had done some outreach to heal rifts in the caucus.

He said he has already talked to Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, about moving quickly on bills to address transportation and provide tax cuts next year. 

Bakk was summoned to see U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank next month with Dayton and Daudt to discuss the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which Frank ruled unconstitutional because it confines offenders indefinitely without access to courts and other civil liberties. 

Bakk said he has asked the judge to include other Senators, including Republicans. "To fix this there has to be a bipartisan proposal," he said. The issue is potentially politically explosive because it could entail releasing sex offenders, depending on future judicial rulings. 

Dayton has expressed disagreement with the ruling and said the the program as it exists now is constitutional. 


MN Senate approves raises for staff

The Senate Rules Committee, which manages the operations of the Senate, approved raises for staff of 3 percent this year and 3 percent next year, as well as a $1,500 lump sum payment this year. 

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said the raises are in line with private sector pay and appropriate given several years of salary freezes during the recession and leaner state budgets. 

Staff pay ranges from $33,259 for the lowest paid legislative assistants to $148,186 for the Secretary of the Senate, who is the administrator for the body. 

The committee also passed a $60.2 million two-year budget to operate the Senate and facilities. Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, pointed out a significant increase of 15 percent from 2016 to 2017, mostly due to added costs related to the new Senate office building. The $76 million building, currently under construction, has been a contentious political issue since it was approved, with Republicans citing it as an example of govenrment largesse. 

Bakk said eventually the Legislature will have to deal with the issue of legislator -- as opposed to staff -- pay; legislators make $31,500 per year plus per diem on days served and have not received a raise since 1999.

Bakk said he has lost several capable candidates for office because they could not commit to the time required for so little money. 

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