Gov. Mark Dayton said he plans to reinstate pay raises for his commissioners on Wednesday, the one day the Legislature has given him to make such a decision.
Dayton on Monday said the pay hikes are essential to providing strong government services, and although he expects blowback from Republicans and others, he said, "I'm going to do what I believe is right for the quality of state government in Minnesota."
The upcoming decision has been in the making since February, when news of the nearly $900,000 in raises to 30 commissioners first broke. The unilateral move, while legal, irked Republicans in the Legislature and divided Capitol DFLers, most notably Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
Dayton signed a compromise bill in late February that rolled back the pay raises, restored that authority to the Legislature and gave the governor a one-day window to reinstate the raises July 1.
Dayton said Monday the pay hikes "won't be the maximum in most cases." He said they are needed to attract top talent, noting that many similar positions in local government already pay larger salaries.
Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, sent Dayton a letter Monday arguing that Minnesota agency heads make more than their counterparts in other states. That's according to a 2014 pay study of top state officials, including constitutional officers, state Supreme Court justices and legislators.
"At a time when take-home pay for many families remains flat, I urge you to reconsider the pay raises you awarded your commissioners in January," Anderson wrote.
The same study, conducting by consulting firm Hay Group, found that the salaries for most state agency heads last year was $119,517, as much as 69 percent below private-sector pay for comparable positions.
A new justice for the court?
Dayton also said that an advisory commission will begin culling finalists this summer for the state Supreme Court seat soon to be vacated by Justice Alan Page.
He said the commission met last week, and he expects they will present him with three or four names in early August. "I'll have Justice Page's successor announced by the time he departs," he said.
Dayton also faces the prospect of finding a replacement for Justice Wilhelmina Marie Wright, who was nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for Minnesota in April. She is expected to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate sometime this year.
Dayton said that as he considers who will replace Page and Wright, if she is confirmed, he is cognizant that the state's Supreme Court will lose two black jurists.
"I'm conscious of the diversity factor, conscious of the fact that when Justice Wright departs, there'll only be one woman, the chief justice, at that point. So that's also a consideration."