Dayton’s rebuke of Bakk at a late afternoon news conference was unusually harsh even for the rough-and-tumble politics of the State Capitol. It raised immediate questions about how a splintered relationship between the two men could affect Dayton’s agenda and the DFL’s fortunes in the legislative session. It came after Bakk, of Cook, led a successful charge on the Senate floor earlier in the day to delay the pay raises until July 1. The raises total $800,000 in additional pay per year to 23 cabinet officers.
Dayton said he strongly opposes the delay and will veto the measure if it reaches his desk. He also said Bakk’s maneuver came without warning.
“I’m very disappointed because I thought my relationship with Senator Bakk has always been positive and professional,” Dayton said. “I certainly learned a brutal lesson today that I can’t trust him, can’t believe what he says to me, and that he connives behind my back.”
Bakk did not directly respond to a request for comment after Dayton’s criticisms, which were lengthy and pointed. Through his spokeswoman, Bakk provided only this statement: “I will not comment on private conversations except to say if he feels that way, he was not listening when we had a conversation about the potential options to be considered relative to floor action on the bill.”
House Republicans have been making political hay of Dayton’s pay raises for the past week. Some of Dayton’s commissioners saw salary increases of up to $35,000 a year, with a new top salary for several commissioners at just under $155,000.
In making the raises, Dayton exercised authority granted him by a 2013 vote of the Legislature, after a bipartisan commission that included lawmakers from both parties recommended higher base salaries for elected and appointed officials across state government. Dayton’s raises, which he said are necessary to compete for top talent with the private sector, bring pay for agency commissioners more closely in line with their counterparts in neighboring states.
The amendment Bakk passed Thursday would strip Dayton of his pay raise authority until July 1, when his authority would be restored.
“Might he do it differently? That’s yet to be seen,” Bakk said of Dayton in a Senate floor speech. Bakk said he would have preferred Dayton take a more incremental approach to raising the salaries, perhaps staggered over several years. The pay raises “most likely are warranted,” Bakk said, but added that “the Legislature and the public haven’t had the opportunity to have a discussion about how pay has lagged for these department heads.”
Bakk was also majority leader in 2013, when the Legislature passed the bill giving Dayton authority to grant the raises and he was among those who voted for it.
On Thursday, Bakk’s amendment passed 63-2, with just two DFL senators dissenting: Patricia Torres Ray of Minneapolis and Sandra Pappas of St. Paul.
Funding caught in middle
The amendment was attached to an emergency spending bill moving through the Legislature. The roughly $15 million spending bill includes emergency funding boosts for a handful of state agencies: to the Department of Health to cover costs last fall associated with Ebola virus response, to the Department of Human Services to shore up staffing at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter, to the Department of Natural Resources to help cover costs related to a new retirement plan for conservation officers, and to the Minnesota Zoo for help with a budget shortfall.
Shortly after the Senate vote, Dayton said he wanted to talk with “other DFL senators” in a private caucus meeting.
“He was not happy,” said Sen. Jim Carlson of Eagan, who attended with five other senators. Carlson said DFL senators were not warned that Dayton would oppose the pay raise delays, although he stressed that Bakk did not try to make senators think otherwise.
“If the senators had known that this particular amendment was something the governor did not support, I think you would have seen the vote flip,” Carlson said. “I think most people were thinking there was some kind of agreement.”
Asked about the implications for DFLers of a fracture in the Dayton-Bakk relationship, Carlson said: “I’m hoping it’s just a miscommunication. At this point I don’t know anything for sure.”
An alternate version of the emergency spending bill moving through the House includes a provision to strike about $40,000 from the budgets of the departments of Health, Human Services and Natural Resources. That’s roughly equal to the salary boosts Dayton gave the commissioners of those three agencies, and House Republicans suggested the cuts should be subtracted from their salaries.
Dayton said he wouldn’t do that, but said he was not opposed to subtracting $40,000 from the temporary budget bill.
If the House decides to pass the Senate bill instead, it would go to Dayton for his promised veto. The House could take up the bill as early as next week.
By Dayton’s account, his relationship with Bakk is permanently altered. He said he now trusts Kurt Daudt, the Republican House speaker, more than Bakk and he set new ground rules for how he will deal with Bakk going forward.
“I’m not going to meet with Sen. Bakk anymore without others present because I don’t trust his word,” Dayton said.