A Republican and a DFL member of the Minnesota House filed a lawsuit Thursday against Speaker Kurt Daudt and the House of Representatives, asking a judge to order Daudt and other House officials to enact a pay raise for lawmakers approved earlier this year by a citizen commission.
Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, and Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, filed the lawsuit Thursday in Ramsey County District Court. They say Daudt, a Republican, violated the law by ignoring a nearly $15,000 pay bump for 134 representatives mandated by the Legislative Salary Council — and already granted to 67 state senators on July 1.
“Contrary to this clear constitutional and statutory law, the respondents have continued to pay House members at the old salary rate of $31,140 per annum instead of the $45,000 per annum,” the lawsuit reads.
The raise is the first for state lawmakers in nearly two decades. For years, lawmakers rejected salary increases for political reasons. But last year, Minnesota voters voted by a margin of 77 percent to 18 percent to approve a constitutional amendment that shifted decisions about legislative pay from lawmakers to a citizen panel.
That group, the Legislative Salary Council, met several times this winter and ultimately approved a raise for all lawmakers.
The lawsuit notes that Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, publicly acknowledged that the vote and the council’s decision to raise pay were not negotiable. Daudt, meanwhile, maintains it is unfair to make lawmakers vote to approve the council’s decision because they are ultimately voting on their own raises.
In a news conference Wednesday, prior to the lawsuit’s filing, the speaker said he would not implement the raises unless directed by a court to do so. He blamed DFL members of the House, who helped draft the constitutional amendment, for putting the issue on the ballot without setting up a funding source for any raises.
“It still requires legislators to vote for their own pay increase and unfortunately I can’t ask my members to do that,” Daudt said. “They didn’t support the constitutional amendment and I can’t ask them to do that.”
In addition to implementing the pay raise, the lawsuit seeks back pay for House lawmakers from July 1 of this year.
Before the raises were approved, current and former lawmakers from both parties expressed concerns about stagnant pay scaring off promising candidates for the Legislature. Lawmakers are eligible for a per diem allowance, and those from greater Minnesota can get a housing allowance.
But Moran said the compensation hasn’t kept up with the cost of living, making it difficult for many lawmakers to get by. Though the legislative session is held for just a few months each year, lawmakers deal with legislative business and hear from their constituents year round.
“I know we do this work because we love this work and are committed to it, but it becomes really challenging to do it,” she said.
Moran said it’s clear that voters wanted to change the way the state sets lawmakers’ pay and that the Legislature should now follow through.
“It is a constitutional amendment, and I hope we can follow the Constitution,” she said.
O’Neill, a member of the caucus Daudt leads, did not respond to a request for comment.