A public feud that erupted last week between the state’s top two DFLers showed little sign of easing Monday, just as the issue at the heart of the dispute — hefty pay raises for Gov. Mark Dayton’s Cabinet — heads into the even less-friendly territory of a Republican-dominated House.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, had led a vote in the Senate to temporarily strip Dayton of his authority to grant the raises, some as large as $35,000 a year. Dayton had responded with an angry tirade, calling Bakk “conniving” and a “backstabber,” saying he had lost trust in the Senate leader.
On Monday, making his first public remarks on the matter, Bakk said, “If the governor wants to make it personal, he can. But I’m not going to get into a tit-for-tat, personal attacks back and forth. It’s just not my style.”
Moments earlier, Dayton, in a rare personal visit to the Capitol, declined to repeat his criticisms of Bakk. But he also signaled that their relationship remains on shaky ground.
“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. Asked if the two men could repair the relationship, Dayton replied: “I don’t know.”
The possible fallout from the dispute looms large for the DFL in a session where the party is pushing ambitious education and transportation spending proposals, and facing off against a House Republican majority with different priorities.
As of Monday, the two men had still not talked face to face. Both had separate phone conversations with House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, whose members are even more deeply opposed to Dayton’s pay raises, and who now holds the power to prolong the dispute and potentially force a gubernatorial veto of an otherwise unrelated, $16 million emergency spending bill. The so-called “deficiency” bill includes money to respond to what’s been described as a staffing emergency at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, and to address other small spending shortfalls until the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30.
The language of the Senate’s deficiency bill now includes Bakk’s measure to delay the pay increases until July 1, and now awaits action in the House. The House version of the bill had sought only to roll back pay raises for the three commissioners whose departments were due to receive emergency funds.
Unhappy with pay hikes
Daudt would not say Monday whether Republicans would sign onto Bakk’s plan and pass the Senate’s bill, or do something else. “Obviously we are not happy with the pay increases,” Daudt said. “I’ve been very clear about that all along.”
Dayton has vowed to veto the bill if it includes Bakk’s amendment. He had indicated in private negotiations last week that he would have accepted the House version. The full House could pick up the issue as early as Wednesday or Thursday.
Dayton’s pay hikes, applied to nearly 30 Cabinet officials, add up to about an additional $900,000 a year; at least some of the posts had not seen pay hikes in a dozen years. In 2013, the DFL-controlled Legislature voted to give Dayton the power to raise commissioner pay without legislative involvement. Daudt said he would like to repeal that authority.
Bakk voted for that bill in 2013, and has mentioned repeatedly that he thinks Dayton’s commissioners probably deserve the raises. But he and some Democrats say Dayton’s decision might have been an easier political sell if it had been phased in over several years, instead of all at once.
“I don’t know about doing it in a single jump, whether that was the right thing,” said House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Dayton has said the raises are needed to recruit and keep top talent to lead state agencies. Before the falling out with Bakk, Dayton was under the impression they had a deal to defuse the controversy by accepting an amendment from House Republicans that would have subtracted a portion of the deficiency bill’s funding to offset money spent on wages.
But Bakk said Monday that in his mind there was no deal. Bakk said that the day before the vote, he laid out for Dayton several possible scenarios of how the Senate might respond.
“The governor wasn’t asked to pick one of the options that I laid out to him,” Bakk said.
Frans confirmation in doubt
Amid the controversy, Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, postponed a confirmation hearing for Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, whose $35,000 raise lifted his salary to $155,000 a year. Cohen said he wanted time for the issue to cool a bit, but also said he was concerned Frans could lose some support over the pay flap.
Bakk said even though he and Dayton aren’t currently talking, that members of their staff are still in communication.
Still, the veteran DFLer hinted at bruised feelings.
“I’ve built a pretty strong image around here of being someone who’s candid and honest,” Bakk said.