A pair of Republican state lawmakers are going to court to try to stop what they are calling an illegal round of pay raises for state employees.
Continuing a battle over a state labor agreement that came to a head without a consensus in Minnesota's divided Legislature last May, Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Lake, and Sen. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, are asking a Ramsey County judge to strike down the Minnesota Management and Budget agreement that awarded 2.5% pay raises to state workers over GOP objections last summer.
O'Neill and Koran are asking Judge Laura Nelson to set aside the agreement because Minnesota Management and Budget implemented its pay hikes without legislative ratification.
The agency went through with the agreement despite an impasse between the GOP-led Senate and Democratic-controlled House in May. The Senate voted to hold off on raises until July 2021 in response to earlier projections of a substantial, billion-dollar budget deficit. The House, meanwhile, approved the new labor contracts.
In response, and after a legal review, Minnesota Management and Budget concluded that while state law requires lawmakers to approve state worker contracts, the Legislature cannot "unilaterally modify the agreements or plans."
O'Neill and Koran counter that the collective bargaining agreement is invalid because neither chamber of the Legislature approved the same bill to ratify the contract. Represented by the nonprofit Upper Midwest Law Center, the two lawmakers are asking for a judgment that sets the agreement aside, and they instead want any new contract to return to the Legislature for another vote.
Any wages or benefit increases made possible by the agreement "must cease to be paid," according to their complaint, and Nelson "should restrain the Commissioner's unlawful conduct."
Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Jim Schowalter and the agency he heads are both named as defendants in the lawsuit. Neither Schowalter nor a spokesperson could be reached for comment on the litigation. Schowalter, who is in his second stint as commissioner, replaced then-MMB Commissioner Myron Frans in September.
Koran and O'Neill are participating in the litigation based on their respective experience as part of the Legislative Coordinating Committee's Subcommittee on Employee Relations. Koran is now chairman of the subcommittee, and O'Neill also previously led the group.
In a joint statement after filing the lawsuit last week, the two Republicans rejected the Minnesota Management and Budget Office's earlier legal analyses and held firm on their stance that bargaining agreements cannot be put in place unless a majority of both houses of the Legislature sign off on them.
"Our state government depends on the executive branch obeying the laws instead of ignoring them and ruling by decree," the two said.
Stephen Montemayor • 651-925-5048