Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton handed state commissioners annual average raises of $29,000 Wednesday, admitting that many Minnesotans cannot relate to that big an increase.
“My goal is to make government as good as possible,” Dayton said, adding that he came in thousands under the limit legislators set for commissioner pay.
“I did what I was authorized to do…” he said. “I am solely responsible for this.”
Dayton said he understands that the size of the raises may be tough for the public to understand, and the average raise alone is more than some families bring home. He asked Minnesotans to give him the benefit of the doubt that the raises are needed.
Top-level workers’ salaries have not risen as much as needed in recent years, he said. “We are playing catchup.”
The Democratic governor took action on the only day he was allowed to under a deal he and legislative leaders cut early this year. The Democratic-controlled Legislature of 2013-2014 gave Dayton the freedom to decide commissioner pay, but lawmakers of both parties objected in January this year when he upped salaries nearly a month before he told legislators.
The salaries announced Wednesday are similar to those he gave in January, before he and legislators agreed that the raises would be revoked and the governor would be able to hike commissioners’ pay only on Wednesday, the first day of the state’s $42 billion, two-year budget. After midnight Wednesday, power to set salaries returned to the Legislature.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Dayton should have talked to Minnesotans after the January dispute so he would know they do not support paying $900,000 more to his appointees.
“The governor apparently is more out of touch than I thought with Minnesotans,” Daudt said.
Top commissioner salaries of $154,992 annually go to those running transportation, revenue, public safety, natural resources, human services and budget departments. Not far behind, at $150,002, are commissioners of corrections, education, employment and economic development, health and pollution control.
Most Dayton Cabinet members received $25,000 to $35,000 raises.
Five Public Utilities Commission members each get a $43,000 raise to $140,000 annually. They do not sit on the Dayton Cabinet.
In all, 31 officials will get paid more under Dayton’s action.
The governor said one commissioner was offered $50,000 a year more for a private job, but she turned it down. He said no commissioner has complained about pay.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said the Legislature overwhelmingly gave Dayton authority to raise salaries.
“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.
GOP leaders were critical of Dayton, even though Democrats pointed out that most Republicans voted in favor of the bill that gave Dayton authority to deliver pay raises Wednesday.
Daudt predicted lawmakers will attempt to overturn the pay raises in the 2016 legislative session.
The Republican also said that it will be tough to approve any agency budget increases next year in light of the pay hikes.
The speaker said that Dayton already had 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 raises will be used in next year’s legislative campaigns.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the raises are part of a larger issue he sees with Democrats who want to help themselves and their friends.
Hann said that compared to other states, Minnesota commissioners are overpaid. Dayton has had no problem getting commissioners, even with the old pay, the senator added.