Republicans on Friday stepped up their attack on Gov. Mark Dayton for giving significant raises to his agency commissioners, with Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, saying she was blindsided by the pay hikes and promising hearings on the issue next week.
Dayton was unapologetic about the pay hikes, which together totaled more than $800,000. “No controversy as far as I’m concerned,” he said at a Friday news conference. “I want the best people and I want them to be able to support their families. And obviously the salaries are a lot of money, but I’ve had people leave state government, my commissioners, to go over to local government and make 50 percent more than what I was able to pay them.”
Dayton noted that commissioners had not gotten pay raises in 12 years and that the stagnant wages were hurting the ability of state government to attract and retain top talent.
Many of the raises were as much as $35,000. The new top salary is just under $155,000.
The raises are the result of a measure passed by the DFL-controlled Legislature in 2013. Legislators passed the recommendations of the bipartisan Compensation Council, which gives guidance to lawmakers about the pay of judges, legislators, constitutional officers and, in this case, the governor’s cabinet. The legislation included a provision that allowed pay to increase to 133 percent of the governor’s salary, up from the previous cap of 85 or 95 percent. The 2013 measure also allowed the governor to raise the pay of the commissioners without legislative approval.
Anderson, who is chairwoman of the House State Government Finance Committee, said the raises were irresponsible, citing long-term health care costs and more immediate needs the Legislature will take up next week. “We have a deficiency bill for these so-called emergency items,” she said, “and yet the governor is going ahead with these raises.”
Anderson said committee hearings would address why the raises did not appear as line items in the budgets of several agencies. “They have been presenting these budgets, and none of them told me about this piece,” she said.
John Pollard, a spokesman for Minnesota Management and Budget, said there was no intent to deceive. “With all due respect to the chair, there is no attempt to conceal here,” Pollard said. “The changes made by the governor were allowed in law, and it required that we report to the Legislature, which we did.”
Before the increases, Minnesota commissioners were making less than their counterparts in most states, according to an analysis by Minnesota Management and Budget from data compiled by the Council of State Governments. Fourteen of 15 commissioners were paid at or below the 50th percentile; eight were below the 25th percentile. The raises push Minnesota salaries above the median.
In separate data obtained by the Star Tribune, North Dakota had at least 10 cabinet-level positions that paid more than Minnesota commissioners before the raises and six jobs that will still be paid more than in Minnesota. Most Wisconsin commissioners were paid slightly more than Minnesota’s before the Dayton raises, but now would be paid less.
Republicans are particularly irked by the increase for Dayton’s choice to be the new Metropolitan Council chairman, Adam Duininck. The chairman’s salary will jump from $58,000 to $145,000, with the job going from part time to full time. Duininck, who had been a Met Council member, also has been a top DFL fundraiser and is married to Dayton’s chief of staff.
A much smaller increase went to Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who manages a $17.7 billion-a-year budget and 5,800 employees: from $143,000 to about $155,000, or 8 percent.