The new process for determining the paychecks of Minnesota state legislators was supposed to remove the issue from political jockeying and showmanship.
The plan, approved overwhelmingly by Minnesota voters in November, establishes an independent commission, the Legislative Salary Council, to study and recommend lawmakers' salaries. The council decided last week to give state lawmakers their first pay increase since 1999, jumping annual salaries from $31,000 to $45,0000, effective in July. Gulp.
Granted, that's a hefty increase, even if it is meant to make up for 18 years of flat salaries. More than a few voters no doubt had buyer's remorse upon seeing the recommendation. But the increase was determined by the process voters set in place, and the Legislative Salary Council is independent of the Legislature. The pay increase was not determined by lawmakers themselves.
Enter House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Republican from Zimmerman, who is positioning himself for a run for governor in 2018. Daudt has directed the House controller not to put out the increased salaries to legislators. Daudt says only lawmakers have the power to release the money to pay for the increase, and he won't let them.
Daudt's move smacks of the same kind of political grandstanding the voters appeared to want to do away with in approving the ballot proposal last year.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he doesn't think Daudt can hold up the pay increases. "The people voted by large margins to have an outside group determine the salaries, and now it is directly directed by the constitution," Gazelka has said. He said the money for the increases will be drawn automatically from the Legislature's budget.
Daudt has tried to turn the page by saying the House is too busy with other issues to deal with the pay increase. But his political grandstanding has only guaranteed that circumventing the wishes of the voters, as he intends to do, will continue as a distraction.
We might agree that at first glance, the salary increase appears to be too much. But we the people, not a potential candidate for governor, set up this process, and it should be respected as such.