Budget crisis notwithstanding, Senate staff gets bonuses
ST. PAUL -- One-time bonus checks of $1,750 were being issued Wednesday to all 205 state Senate staff members amid a continuing state budget crisis and complaints of cuts to vital services.
Senators themselves are also once again eligible for a "telecommunications allowance" of up to $125 per month, thanks to a bipartisan voice vote in the Senate Rules and Administration Committee on Monday.
The total package comes to about $640,000 more this year for staff members, whose pay ranges from about $25,000 for low-skill jobs to more than $90,000 for attorneys and other top aides, the Star Tribune of Minneapolis reported in today's editions.
The vote drew fire from Senate Minority Leader Dick Day, R-Owatonna, who described the bonuses as bad timing at a time when services are being cut.
"People are talking about nursing homes and schools and public defenders, and nobody has any money, and all of a sudden we're giving everybody $1,750. We've got 30,000 to 40,000 state employees who aren't getting bonuses," said Day, who plans to step down as minority leader next month. He acknowledged the vote on the 24-member panel was bipartisan and that only he and a couple of other senators voted no.
Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, defended the adjustments as a long overdue catch-up for an understaffed Senate. He said staff members haven't gotten pay increases since 2001. Legislators haven't gotten pay increases for about seven years, he said.
Johnson said the increases are comparable to various increases in recent years to state agency administrators, to state employees through contract negotiations and to Minnesota House members.
"We were beginning to lose people to the House, the other state agencies and the private sector. No matter what organization you work for, you must take care of, appreciate and compensate your employees, and they in turn will work harder for the people of Minnesota," Johnson said.
David Strom, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota, an interest group that advocates lower taxes and spending, said the unrecorded voice vote was an attempt by lawmakers to "hide what they do" and evade responsibility.
And he said it was inappropriate because "the Legislature accomplished almost nothing this year" and is widely perceived as one of the least productive in history.
Johnson retorted: "The Taxpayers League -- are these not the same CEOs, the sugar daddies who on average make 39 times as much as their average workers? I suggest they look in the mirror."
Johnson said the Senate has cut its two-year budget from $22 million to $19 million, and the money for the bonuses was available because health-care costs were less than anticipated. The telecommunications allowance is not a new perk, but a restoration of one that senators had before 2003, Senate officials say.
Legislators are paid $31,141 for duties that are considered part time, but per-diem payments, pay for leadership positions and other allowances often bring a typical legislator's compensation to more than $40,000.