Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he and Gov. Mark Dayton cleared the air in a private conversation Wednesday morning, settling once and for all on the legislative path out of the commissioner pay raise dispute that fractured their relationship, and also agreeing they have too many shared priorities as DFLers this session to let their feud fester.
Dayton hosted Bakk and other top DFL lawmakers at a breakfast meeting Wednesday at his official residence. "The way it kind of ended was he and I in the corner talking, and he actually put his hand on my shoulder and I put mine on his," said Bakk, DFL-Cook.
"The governor and I just have way too much work to do to be at odds with each other this session. I think we're fine," Bakk said. He said they agreed to jointly appear at a March 5 news conference to tout DFL transportation priorities this session.
Dayton's Deputy Chief of Staff, Linden Zakula, called it "a congenial and constructive meeting."
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, also present at the meeting, said the tone between Bakk and Dayton was cordial and that the larger group discussion remained focused on issues.
The public falling out two weeks ago between the Capitol's two most powerful DFLers came after Dayton revealed that he had raised salaries for about 30 state commissioners to the tune of nearly $900,000 a year, with a handful getting an additional $35,000 a year in salary. Republicans and some DFLers bristled at the size of the raises, despite the 2013 Legislature having granted the governor the power to raise them without further legislative oversight.
Under the deal to resolve it, struck largely between Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, the raises will be temporarily put on hold. Come July 1, Dayton could reinstate them to the full amount; but after that, the Legislature would regain the final authority on whether further raises are granted.
That's a major surrender for Dayton, who initially defended the raises as necessary to recruit and retain top talent for his cabinet. But the issue because a political distraction for the governor, who more recently has spoken repeatedly of the need to retrain the focus of the session on issues of more wide-ranging impact to Minnesotans.
The raise issue got attached to an unrelated stopgap spending bill that distributes about $16 million to several state agencies that encountered unanticipated costs in recent months. A House-Senate conference committee was set to meet Wednesday afternoon to finish up that legislation, and Bakk and Daudt both said they expected their respective chambers to take a final vote on the matter on Thursday.