Outgoing Gov. Mark Dayton's administration is clearing the way to boost pay for nearly two dozen local government administrators in one of his final acts in office.
The administration decided to allow thousands of dollars in raises for 22 positions, from the Rochester city administrator, to top county officials to managers at the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning authority.
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, who notified legislators in a letter, said the agency reviewed requests from local entities, considering factors like pay for similar positions in other places.
"They want to be able to recruit and retain people for the positions that require certain expertise," said Frans, who will stay on with incoming Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, who takes office Jan. 7.
Several Republican legislators strongly opposed the potential raises.
State Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, sent a letter to Walz asking him to hold off on the increases until they can be further reviewed by lawmakers and the public.
"I'm troubled by the number of raises," said O'Neill, who is chairwoman of the House Subcommittee on Employee Relations.
State law caps the salary for most local and county positions. But it also gives the Minnesota Department of Management and Budget (MMB) the authority to approve raising the pay ceiling for certain jobs when factors such as required skills or recruiting and retention challenges merit such a bump.
The new limits, disclosed in a Dec. 5 letter to legislators and first reported by CBS affiliate WCCO, are set to take effect Jan. 5, just two days before the Democratic governor's term ends.
Under the proposed changes, the salary limit for Metro Transit general manager could jump from $208,000 to $297,250 a year, a potential 42 percent raise, according to an analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Coordinating Commission.
Other affected positions include Hennepin County administrator, set to jump 13 percent, to up to $250,100, and Ramsey County manager, which could increase 28 percent from the current limit, to $220,375.
Without such waivers from MMB, most local government salaries will be locked at a maximum of $175,621 in 2019, a 2.5-percent raise from the current statutory limit.
O'Neill cited "exorbitant increases" that could reach the tens of thousands of dollars, and a Metro Transit employee who would be paid nearly $300,000. She added that the state had previously approved just 55 pay cap increases in the past 20 years.
"These employees already enjoy salaries that are several times higher than the median income for Minnesota families," O'Neill said.
The Legislature does not have authority to approve or reject the proposed salary cap waivers. State law allows 30 days from MMB's initial disclosure (in this case, the Dec. 5 letter) for legislators to hold a hearing and weigh in.
The decision whether to actually raise salaries remains up to the local jurisdictions.
Frans defended the process and number of increases, saying MMB followed its normal procedures and that the volume was reflective of an increase in requests.
In all, the agency received 41 requests to raise salary caps on specific positions this year, up from just "a couple" in past years. A total of 40 salary cap requests were granted over Dayton's two terms, he said.
"We're going to look at these local government requests fairly favorably as long as it's reasonable and there is comparable data," Frans said.
Dayton told WCCO on Thursday that he did not know about the compensation cap increases before they hit the news.
Dayton spokesman Matt Swenson said the state budget office "acted appropriately on its own authority, abiding by the same procedures that have been followed for 20 years."