Minnesota state legislators are set to get a $1,500-a-year pay bump, bringing their annual salary to $46,500.
The 3 percent increase was finalized during a Friday meeting of the Legislative Salary Council, an independent panel made up of Minnesotans who do not serve in the State Capitol.
The vote comes after a month of deliberations by the council, which was created by voters in 2016. Chair Deborah Olson said members weighed a number of factors, including pay for other state employees and the consumer price index. She said a desire to attract diverse and high-quality candidates to the job also was paramount.
Sherrie Pugh, who was appointed to the commission by then-Gov. Mark Dayton, noted that young Minnesotans with large student debt bills may be unable to afford to serve in the Legislature without pay increases.
The base pay doesn’t include other benefits and payments that boost lawmakers’ bottom lines. All legislators are eligible for per diem payments to cover meals and other costs while working in St. Paul. They also get cellphone and travel reimbursements. Lawmakers who live more than 50 miles from the State Capitol also receive housing stipends. Per diem payments in 2018 averaged $5,812 for House members and $8,274 for senators. While the council does not have the authority to change per diem policy, the council's final report urges legislators to eliminate flat rates in favor of reimbursements for specific out-of-pocket expenses. Such a move would increase transparency and fairness, she said.
Even with the raise, Minnesota legislators make less than the state’s median income of $65,599. The salaries also lag behind those of many other elected officials in the state. The average pay for commissioners across the seven-county metro area is about $64,500, while the governor and other constitutional officers make between $89,000 and $127,600 a year.
That gap is a reflection of the part-time nature of the job. The Legislature is in session in St. Paul roughly five months a year, and most lawmakers hold other jobs. Just 13 of the state’s 201 state representatives and senators count “full-time legislator” as their sole occupation, according to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. Another 21 consider themselves retired.
Voters approved the idea of creating the council to set and approve legislator pay during the 2016 election, taking the responsibility out of the hands of lawmakers. The 16-member panel, made up of nonlegislators appointed by the governor and chief justice of the state Supreme Court, reviews compensation at the start of each two-year session. In 2017, the first year the council met, members raised pay 45 percent, to $45,000. Legislator salaries had previously remained stagnant at $31,140 for nearly two decades.
Lawmakers offered little reaction to news of the pending raise.
“Now that it’s done by an outside commission, I don’t even think about it,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa. “They have the right to increase or decrease it. We have no say in that.”