Retroactive pay likely for some House members

  • Article by: WARREN WOLFE
  • Star Tribune
  • July 13, 2011 - 10:00 PM

Although 48 Minnesota state representatives chose to forgo their $2,590 paychecks for July because of the state shutdown, some of them likely will collect their money.

They'll just collect it retroactively, after the shutdown ends, legislative officials confirmed.

Others may accept pay only for the days this month when the state is fully back in business, if there are any.

House of Representatives rules allow the 134 representatives to ask not to get paid -- but later change their minds and collect their paychecks retroactively "at any time, for whatever reason," said Greg Crowe, House co-controller.

"It's really up to them, and some weren't quite sure" what they eventually would do, Crowe said. "We list them all as deferring payment."

There's no such ambiguity in the Senate. "No pay means no pay, period," said Senate Republican spokesman Michael Brodkorb. At their request, 14 of 66 current senators were not paid during July (the 67th senator, Linda Scheid, DFL-Brooklyn Park, died last month).

On the other hand, some legislators who accepted pay say they'll give it to good causes.

"I decided I might as well keep the money in my district, so I'm donating it to my three school districts," said Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Shafer, who took office in January. "They don't get their fair share of state funding, so this helps a little."

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, said he'll donate his July salary to Planned Parenthood, the Southwest Senior Center in Minneapolis, the Minnesota AIDS Project and the Neighborhood Involvement Project -- "all really important services harmed by the shutdown or will be by the proposed budget cuts."

Minnesota's 201 legislators are paid $31,140 a year, with checks at the start of each month whether or not they are in session.

Bill would change the rules

One Republican legislator wants to remove any choice "in the very likely event that we'll go through this again."

"No pay, no state contribution for health insurance, no mileage, no per diem, no nothing during a shutdown until we've passed the budget," said Rep. Tony Cornish of Good Thunder, who dashed off a bill this week to do just that.

"If a legislator is suffering like the people outside the State Capitol, maybe it'll get us to act a little quicker," said Cornish, chairman of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee. The Lake Crystal police chief and a former state game warden also cut his own legislative pay by 3 percent two years ago in sympathy with workers suffering during the economic downturn.

While about half the workers in Gov. Mark Dayton's office have been laid off, no legislative employees have been sent home so far. That could change if the shutdown continues much longer.

'How-dare-you' calls

The decision of whether to accept pay hasn't been an easy one for some legislators "who are getting 'how-dare-you' calls and e-mails" from constituents, said first-term Rep. Andrea Kieffer, R-Woodbury. She took the money and explained to those who asked that she donated it to the Christian Cupboard food shelf in Woodbury.

"I feel really bad. There are state employees out of work who live paycheck to paycheck, and other people who are very worried," she said. "But some legislators depend on their paychecks too. I don't judge anybody. It's a personal decision."

That position gets a lukewarm reception from Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, who declined his July pay.

"Yeah, it could be hard on some of us, but we're the ones who didn't get our work done and caused the problem," he said. "Now we have to fix it."

Winkler said he likely will support Cornish's proposal if it comes up in the next session.

"Will it possibly pass?" Winkler asked in mock puzzlement. "Only about 99 percent of voters will agree with him on that one."

Meanwhile, legislative officials already are taking names of representatives and senators ready to forgo their August pay -- at least for now.

Warren Wolfe • 612-673-7253

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