Governor signs bill that delays commissioner raises

Senators debated the topic of proposed pay raises for state commissioners at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015. Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Updated: 6:35 p.m. | Posted: 4:20 p.m.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill Thursday that provides stop-gap funding for some state agencies and freezes pay for his top officials.

The bill passed by the House and Senate Thursday delays the raises until July 1, when Dayton gets a day to give his commissioners more money.  After that, power to raise the pay of top state officials goes back to the Legislature.

The Senate voted 35-29 for the bill after a debate where several Republicans criticized the size of the raises Dayton gave to more than two dozen commissioners.

Others were critical of the bill itself, which they said will delay, but not halt the raises.

“It’s not over. Because on July 1, the governor of the state of Minnesota is going to put the pay increases back in place,” said Sen. David Osmek of Mound.

The bill also includes $15 million dollars in emergency funding for three state agencies and the Minnesota Zoo.

Dayton has said the raises are needed to attract and retain the best people to head up state departments.  The Legislature initially gave the governor authority to raise commissioner pay in 2013 when Democrats controlled the House and Senate, but the governor could not exercise the power until after the 2014 election.

Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk had a public falling out over the issue after Bakk convinced the Senate earlier this month to delay the raises.

The compromise was worked out by Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, which may help explain why the bill passed 108-20 in the house on Thursday with virtually no debate.

Bakk said he’s satisfied with the compromise because it gives him and his colleagues time to review an internal report behind Dayton’s decision to boost pay.

“That was the whole point when the bill left the floor,” Bakk said,  “to suspend the increases until June 30 so that we could review the report that no one in the Legislature had at that point had seen.”

The $15 million deficiency funding in the bill goes to the St. Peter security hospital, the Minnesota Zoo, the Department of Natural Resources and to the Department of Health for preparations it made to deal with possible Ebola cases and partially offset the planning costs accrued by some hospitals.