The House on Friday agreed to submit to Minnesota voters a constitutional amendment question that asks if an independent council should be given the authority to determine legislators’ pay. The bill passed 69-62 with all Republicans being joined in opposition by DFL Reps. Gene Pelowski, Joe Radinovich and Paul Rosenthal.
Lawmakers current salary not counting per-diem and housing reimbursements is about $31,000 a year. The relatively low amount raises concerns that only wealthy or retired people can afford to serve in the Legislature. However, legislators, particularly House members who are up for eletion in 2014, fear catching heat from their constituents for giving themselves pay raises.
The bill’s chief author Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, said said he favors in the independent council appointed by the governor and state Supreme Court as a way to remove legislators from the equation.
“We should take this issue of legislative pay out of the budget process, out of the Legislature’s hands. It’s the right thing to do and we believe that Minnesotans will support this common sense solution,” Metsa said.
The proposal was amended on the floor to be placed on the 2016 general election ballot rather than the 2014 ballot. The change to 2016 means the proposal would be decided in an election year in which both the House and the Senate are on the ballot.
Rep. John Petersburg, R-Owatonna, disagreed with the move to hand the pay decisions off to a non-elected group.
“To sit here and say it’s too political and we don’t want to have to make those hard decisions, we don’t want to make the case, therefore we’re going to give it to some innocuous group out there so that we can play it safe is not what we need to do,” Petersburg said.
Republicans also assailed DFLers for moving on a non-budgetary issue with only a few days left to go in the legislative session. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the proposal could be taken up as late as the 2016 session and still make it on that year’s ballot.
“Instead of worrying about the three short days that we’re left here to pass Minnesota’s balanced budget, we’re debating a constitutional amendment that if we didn’t pass this session, we’d have three more sessions to pass,” Daudt said.
The bill passed through its first Senate committee hearing on Friday morning. The Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley, will have to stop at the Rules Committee and the subcommittee on elections before it can go to the floor. Eken says he plans to amend the bill in its next committee stop to align with the 2016 ballot year in the House proposal.
The Senate has made legislator pay a priority and in April narrowly passed a state government budget bill with a pay increase. The increase in the Senate bill to $41,000 was based on the recommendation of the state Compensation Council, which can recommend but doesn’t have the authority to implement pay increases. The constitutional amendment approach, which wasn’t introduced in the House until May 6, was taken up as an alternative to a legislatively enacted pay increase.