Minnesota legislators will get a 7.25% raise in July.
The state's appointed Legislative Salary Council boosted lawmakers' salaries by $3,500 to $51,750, aiming to entice and retain qualified leaders amid rising inflation. The pay bump will cost taxpayers an additional $810,854 a year, according to council staff.
"Once the legislators are in ... they realize that the money is not enough to keep them sustained, particularly from greater Minnesota," Council Chair Jim Fleming said. "Legislators are choosing not to run because of the money."
The group considered a pay bump of more than 9% for the state's part-time Legislature. But Vice Chair Denny Laufenburger proposed scaling that back, raising concerns about the "optics" of such a big hike and said 7.25% is more closely aligned with inflation. The group approved Laufenburger's suggestion Friday.
The 16-person salary council has two members from every congressional district, with half of them appointed by the governor and half appointed by the chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. It's evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
Before voters amended Minnesota's Constitution to create the council in 2016, legislators set their own pay. Giving yourself a raise was not politically popular, and for nearly 20 years their pay remained unchanged at around $31,000.
The independent salary council quickly gave legislators a 45% boost in 2017, raising their pay to $45,000. The group has since made smaller hikes, but the 7.25% increase coming in 2023 will be the biggest jump since that initial dramatic raise.
"Minnesota voters wisely put a nonpartisan council in charge of legislator salaries. The council is able to leave the politics out of it and instead simply consider how legislators should be compensated on the merits," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement Monday.
Members of the salary council are also urging legislators to change their per diem process, which they described as inconsistent and not transparent. While the council sets salaries, legislators decide the scale of their per diem pay, which they can use to cover daily living expenses when they are doing legislative work.
"Members need to be made whole for their costs of coming to St. Paul for five months each odd-numbered year and four months each even-numbered year to carry out the people's business," the council's draft report states. "However, payments of flat dollar amounts do not reflect members' actual expenses that are incurred."
Senators currently can get a $86 per diem and House members can receive $66. They also may qualify for reimbursements for lodging, travel and other expenses.
The sum lawmakers take home outside of their base salary varies widely. Some opt not to receive any per diem dollars. Others collect $10,000 or more just from per diems, and often far more from reimbursements.