Gov. Dayton vows to veto bill related to Ebola-related funding
ST. PAUL — A bill loaded with $413,000 in Ebola-related funding for Mayo Clinic is at the center of a legislative fight over the governor’s salary increases for state commissioners.
ST. PAUL — A bill with $413,000 in Ebola-related funding for Mayo Clinic is at the center of a political fight over the governor's decision to give $800,000 in raises to his cabinet members.
Gov. Mark Dayton vowed on Thursday to veto the bill after the DFL-led Senate amended the bill with a provision that would rollback the salary increases until July 1. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk offered the amendment, saying the public and lawmakers need a chance to weigh in on the pay increases.
"I do think we have an oversight responsibility to make sure that taxpayers’ dollars are being spent as wisely as possible, and I think we have some responsibility to make sure we have competitive wages," Bakk said.
Dayton fired back later in the day, calling the Senate wage measure "totally unacceptable" and a "petty sideshow." He said he's also extremely disappointed that Bakk, a fellow Democrat, did not even talk to him about the amendment.
"To have the majority leader of the Senate come in and stab me in the back and blindside me is just absolutely unacceptable," Dayton said.
The salary fight threatens to derail the $15 million funding bill that prevents some state agencies from running out of money due to unexpected expenses — including last fall's Ebola scare. It provides $2 million to emergency responders and four hospitals designated to treat Ebola patients. That includes $413,000 for Mayo Clinic Hospital — Saint Marys Campus. Mayo Clinic has spent more than $ 1 million preparing to treat Ebola cases, according to clinic spokesman Bryan Anderson.
Also included in the deficiency spending bill is nearly $11 million for the Department of Human Services to increase staffing levels to improve patient safety at the Minnesota Security Hospital. It also includes more than $1 million for the Minnesota Zoo, which is struggling financially following a drop in attendance and cuts in state funding. It also includes $568,000 for the Department of Natural Resources to cover salary and retirement costs.
Bakk's amendment won broad bipartisan support, passing 63 to 2, with all six Southeast Minnesota lawmakers voting for it. The Senate approved the bill 49 to 16. A similar bill is advancing in the Minnesota House. It contains a provision that would cut agency budgets by the amount of agency head salary increases. Most commissioners of large agencies would make $155,000 per year after the pay increase.
Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he believes the governor’s salary increases went too far. Senjem supported Bakk's amendment and a failed Republican-backed measure that went even further by prohibiting the governor from unilateraly increase the salaries of his cabinet members.
"The salaries the governor issued were way out of bounds," Senjem said.
Asked if he is worried the Ebola funding for hospitals could be in jeopardy because of the political dispute over salaries, Senjem said no. He said he’s confident that lawmakers will approve that funding — even if it requires overriding a gubernatorial veto or passing it in larger budget bills.
Dayton defended the salary increases, noting he worked within the authority granted him under the law. In 2013, lawmakers approved a bill setting a cap for commissioner salaries at $164,000. He said agency head salaries have not been raised in more than a decade and the pay hikes were necessary in order to keep top talent.
He added, "For the Legislature to think they have the authority to revoke an action I took retroactively is just unacceptable."
"The salaries the governor issued were way out of bounds."