Minnesota legislators gave Gov. Mark Dayton one day to raise his commissioners’ pay and, to no one’s surprise, he did that today.
Dayton is giving an average $20,000 raise to his commissioners and overall raises are similar to the $800,000 he awarded them in January, before he and legislative leaders agreed that the raise would be revoked and the governor would be able to up commissioners’ pay today only.
His action early this year created an uproar among lawmakers who were upset that he gave the raises and did not tell them until nearly a month later.
“It’s a lot of money; it’s more money than most Minnesotans make,” Dayton said on Minnesota Public Radio. “But these are very talented people who have the ability to command these salaries — in fact, higher salaries — in the public sector elsewhere, even in Minnesota.”
Top commissioner salaries of $154,992 went to those running transportation, revenue, public safety, natural resources, human services and budget departments. Not far behind, at $150,002, were commissioners of corrections, education, employment and economic development, health and pollution control.
He could have raised those 11 and eight other commissioners’ salaries to $164,803.
Another eight commissioners will be paid up to $144,991, short of a $148,694 cap.
“All Minnesotans depend upon their skills to organize and deliver needed public services, while also creating efficiencies and saving taxpayers money,” Dayton wrote to legislative leaders about his commissioners.
He also wrote: “The salaries of high-level public officials are continent targets for anti-government partisans, who don’t understand the sophisticated administration skills required to provide quality government services, and care even less.”
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Legislature overwhelmingly gave Dayton authority to raise salaries on July 1.
“I share the concern of hiring and retaining our highly qualified, dedicated commissioners and other public servants who perform the outstanding work of our state departments,” Bakk said.
But Republicans said Dayton is out of touch with Minnesotans, who do not want commissioners to get the size of raises given Wednesday.
“I will not say I am surprised, but I will say I’m very disappointed,” House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said about Dayton’s decision.
He called the governor out of touch with average Minnesotans and predicted lawmakers will attempt to turn back the pay raises in the 2016 legislative session. He said the average pay increase in the state was 1.7 percent, but some commissioners received more than a 30 percent boost.
Daudt also said that it will be tough to approve any agency budget increases next year in light of the pay hikes.
The speaker said Dayton already has given 5 percent commissioner raises each of the past two years and he could have accepted raises in the 3 percent to 5 percent range.
The $42 billion, two-year state budget started today, but it does not include funds for commissioner raises.