House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, instructed the Minnesota House controller Thursday not to fund legislative pay raises that were recently recommended by a voter-approved citizen panel.
Daudt, a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate, communicated his decision in a memo stating that the Legislature has the sole power to “enact appropriation.”
In a brief and hastily arranged news conference, Daudt argued that the pay increases would be inappropriate. “For us to accept that pay, when others are not getting that sort of pay increase, really would be wrong,” he said.
The Legislative Salary Council, overwhelmingly authorized by voters last year through a constitutional amendment, is a new board of nonlegislators whose job it is to set legislative pay. Last week it approved a 45 percent increase to the base salary for the state’s 201 legislators, increasing their annual pay to $45,000 from $31,140. The increases are scheduled to take effect in July and will cost the state $2.8 million annually.
The council was created to end the practice of lawmakers voting on their own salaries. Legislators have not seen a pay increase in nearly 20 years, partly because of the political risk that comes with boosting their own salaries.
Advocates for the pay increases say that the lower salaries have discouraged people from running for office who are not independently wealthy, retired or who have a union job that allows them to take time off work during the yearly legislative sessions and then return to a job. Many young legislators have left office to find better-paying work to support their families.
Daudt said he got different opinions about whether the Legislative Salary Council’s pay recommendation was binding on the Legislature.
“We did get opinions that told us that this was binding,” he said. “We had other opinions that said you can argue that it is up to the Legislature to appropriate the money. And we believe we have the ability to appropriate or choose whether we appropriate it or not,” he said. “Will we end up in court? I don’t know.”
Daudt’s position puts him at odds with Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, who said Thursday that the recommendation by the citizen panel is binding. “I don’t see any way around a constitutionally directed mandate,” he said.
Daudt said his decision is not motivated by politics, but rather, out of solidarity with Minnesotans he said haven’t seen similar pay increases.
“Middle-class families’ needs must come first — tax relief, lower health care costs, improved roads and bridges, and strong schools,” he said in a statement.