The cop and the nurse

At last night’s DFL gubernatorial debate, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher tried to pin former Sen. Mark Dayton on his plan to “tax the wealthy” by saying a Minnesota cop married to a Minnesota nurse would be subject to Dayton’s tax increase plan.

Dayton countered by saying the couple would not be, because the average police officer’s salary is $51,000 and the average nurse makes $73,000, for a combined $124,000, below Dayton’s threshold for a tax hit.

Let’s play with the numbers. The key to Dayton’s rebuttal is both “average” and “salary.” While the average may be $51,000, that doesn’t mean there aren’t cops who make more than that. And the average salary is just that: Salary, not including overtime, which is often the bread-and-butter for cops.’s “Salary Wizard” for Minneapolis patrol officers shows the entire spectrum for base pay.


Look at the Pioneer Press’ database of salaries for public employees. There are lots of police officers — many from St. Paul — making $70,000 in “base pay” with another 10 percent tacked on for overtime.

A similar database from the Star Tribune showed a police sergeant in Minneapolis made a base salary of $77,000 in 2007, but had a total salary of $105,000 once the overtime was factored in.

Are there cops making much less than that? Sure. But Dayton issued a blanket dismissal of the assertion based on statistical averages, not “real life.”

What about the nurse spouse? shows the base pay for a Twin Cities RN is about $70,000, but the upper 25 percent at that level makes around $76,000.


In a 2009 report, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said the mean annual salary for a registered nurse in Minnesota is $72,760, with the upper level at about $97,000 a year. That doesn’t include any overtime.

Dayton’s tax plan dings couples making $150,000 a year, although that’s believed to be the benchmark after deductions.

Could the mythical cop and nurse couple be paying a tax increase under the Dayton plan? Sure. But based on the salary statistics and the expectation of a sliding scale of increased taxes under his still-unformed plan, probably not much more.

Whether that couple of “rich,” is a matter of debate.

And, of course, Dayton’s opponents have not issued a blanket “no new taxes” guarantee for this couple, either.

  • Kevin Watterson

    Ha. We’ve been using the same line against many of the tax increases the Speaker tried to push through while she was Speaker. So, you’re welcome I guess.

  • Heather

    The “cop” and “nurse” parts of this equation are red herrings. They shift the attention from actual income to our (not necessarily accurate) ideas about how certain occupations are, or should be, compensated. We may not want to see cops or nurses (or teachers, or farmers, or …) pay more taxes because of the emotions their work evokes, but we probably wouldn’t have the same response if faced with other examples — say, “trial lawyer and investment banker”. The truth is that there are ranges of pay in every occupation, and the focus should be on income level, not how that income is earned.

  • Bob Collins

    There’s also the question of what constitutes “rich” or “wealthy.” As near as I can tell, the answer is “anyone who makes more than me.”

  • Jen

    I think the other point MAK was trying make was that a family of 4, with $150k income still “struggle” with “Mortgage, car payments, hockey camp”. I think she forgot to mention the $450 car payments x2 (or 3), the cabin, the vacations, the high premium HC cause we don’t want to just go see some ordinary doctor Insurance. For those of us who have an income of $60k/year, we consider ourselves “middle class”, living paycheck to paycheck, hardly any savings, high deductible HC, buying USED cars. There are core differences and I thing MAK is out of touch with that.

  • Ed Kohler

    I think the hardest part for people to understand (and the GOP doesn’t seem interested in help explain it) is that a couple making $151,001 will only be taxed at the higher rate on the one dollar over $150,000. So the difference for them would be a few cents.

  • Kassie

    My family is very much the cop and nurse story. I work for the State and my husband is a bus driver. We make a very nice living, and with no kids, should be taxed more because of it. While we don’t make that $150k salary, we are what I consider upper middle class and are able to afford things like vacations and toys. If we were taxed a couple percent more, and that’s what we are talking about, our life wouldn’t change and we still probably wouldn’t be paying in a fair share.

  • Daniel Pinkerton

    Dayton has specifically said he would increase taxes for a couple earning over $150,000 taxable income. This means AFTER all allowable deductions, which means we might be talking about a family of four that made over $200,000 a year.

    Paying taxes is not an onerous thing; it’s the price we pay for democracy. And in some cases, paying more taxes would actually save us money. For example, if we had a good state and national health care system, we’d all pay a little more in taxes, but our financial burden would be greatly relieved.

  • Bob Collins

    You’re making an argument for everyone paying more taxes; not just the “rich”.

  • Deneen C

    I drove to work today and passed a Maserati.

    My household income will come pretty close to the $150k mark, but I’m not married so it’s moot. We can both afford to pay more taxes, regardless of whether we want to.

    I don’t want to say that person doesn’t deserve a Maserati, but they certainly deserve to pay more taxes. Remember people are already getting a tax break on FICA. We pay 7.65% FICA tax up to our first $106,800, which for most is more than we make. Someone who makes $200k or $400k pays the same FICA tax as the person who makes $107k.