Pay will jump more than 6 percent over the next two years for staffers at the Minnesota Senate, in a move made by the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, who leads the committee, said the raises of 3 percent per year, along with a $1,500 lump-sum payment to staffers this year, are in line with private-sector pay and appropriate after several years of salary freezes during the recession. Staff pay ranges from $33,259 for the lowest-paid legislative assistants to $148,186 for the Secretary of the Senate, who is the administrator for the body.
Bakk, in a wide-ranging news conference after the committee meeting, said he had a call scheduled Tuesday with Gov. Mark Dayton to talk about disaster relief in the Brainerd lakes region — their first conversation since the Legislature finished business June 13.
The icy relations between Dayton and Bakk dominated the legislative session, beginning with a public feud over Dayton’s decision to raise salaries of some of his commissioner by as much as $35,000, and accusations by Dayton that Bakk “stabbed me in the back.”
The two were scheduled to discuss the storms that destroyed property in the Brainerd lakes region and a possible early end to Lake Mille Lacs’ walleye fishing season. If there’s not enough money in state disaster response funds to help the region, Dayton may need to call a special legislative session to address the shortfall.
The end of the session was rocky for Bakk, with many metro DFL members protesting an environment bill they thought was too easy on polluters, and a legislative process they said lacked transparency. Nevertheless, Bakk held on to his leadership post.
Bakk said he has done some outreach with the caucus in an attempt to heal those rifts.
He said he has already talked to Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, about moving quickly next year on bills to address transportation funding and provide tax cuts.
Bakk was summoned to see U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank in August with Dayton and Daudt to discuss the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which Frank ruled unconstitutional because it confines offenders indefinitely without access to courts and other civil liberties.
Bakk said he has asked the judge to include other senators, including Republicans. “To fix this there has to be a bipartisan proposal,” he said. The issue is politically volatile because it could entail releasing sex offenders, depending on future judicial rulings.
During its Tuesday meeting the committee also passed a $60.2 million two-year budget to operate the Senate and facilities. Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, pointed out a significant increase of 15 percent from 2016 to 2017, mostly from added costs related to the new Senate office building. The building, which is under construction and will cost $76 million, has been a contentious issue since it was approved, with Republicans citing it as an example of government largesse.
Bakk said the Legislature eventually will have to deal with the issue of legislator — as opposed to staff — pay; legislators make $31,500 per year plus per diem on days served and have not received a raise since 1999.
Bakk said several capable candidates for office bowed out because they could not commit to the time required, especially at the modest salary.