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." 

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