ST. PAUL, Minn. — House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Wednesday that he, Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk are nearing agreement on a plan to settle a commissioner pay-raise dispute that is holding up an important spending bill.
Daudt said they are racing to strike a deal in time for House consideration on Thursday of the stopgap spending measure that has become entangled with legislative efforts to reel in the agency executive raises. Bakk confirmed the talks but said any agreement would likely be subject to a review by a joint House-Senate conference committee.
The Republican speaker wouldn't reveal specific details, but said negotiations have included ways the Legislature can regain oversight on commissioner salaries. Last month, Dayton used power previously granted by lawmakers to significantly bump up cabinet member pay.
"I would like that to be part of the final agreement," Daudt said, describing a deal as "very close" and adding it would have to include something that covers the raises Dayton awarded last month.
Bakk wouldn't comment on whether commissioner pay will be reduced retroactively.
Appearing at events in Mankato on Wednesday, Dayton wouldn't get into details but said discussions with Daudt included legislative oversight over future salary increases as well as changes to the $900,000-a-year increases he already approved. He told the Mankato Free Press that a deal hadn't been reached yet.
"It's in the Legislature's hands now," Dayton said.
Dayton Deputy Chief of Staff Linden Zakula said the Democratic governor wants to return the session's focus to passing a two-year budget plan and debating a transportation package.
"To that end, he is working with House and Senate leadership to pass the deficiency bill and bring the salary dispute to an end," Zakula said.
The standoff has stalled a stopgap spending bill with funding for the St. Peter security hospital housing sex offenders, propping up the Minnesota Zoo and repaying health agencies for steps they took to prepare for possible Ebola cases last fall.
Dayton's move to boost commissioner pay by as much as $30,000 in some cases riled lawmakers. When Bakk moved to suspend the raises until July while the Legislature examined the rationale, the governor accused his fellow Democrat of blindsiding him.
Dayton and Bakk have not spoken since last week's breakdown, but Daudt has operated as the go-between. Daudt met with Dayton at the governor's mansion on Wednesday and has been in regular contact with the Senate leader.