Republicans ask Dayton to testify on cabinet pay

Republicans are asking DFL Gov. Mark Dayton to publicly defend his decision to raise the pay of more than two dozen state commissioners last month.

“Many Minnesotans have express concerns over these pay raises and this would be a chance for the Legislature and public to better understand your reasoning,” House State Government Finance Committee Chair Sarah Anderson wrote in a letter to Dayton.

Dayton responded by saying that he’d be happy to host a meeting with Anderson and other members of her caucus to discuss the matter. In a letter to Anderson, Dayton suggested the meeting should be open to the press.

But Dayton’s letter also noted that House Republicans have given substantial raises to some of their own staffers.

Last year, Dayton and the DFL-controlled Legislature changed the pay scale for commissioners and other agency heads, but didn’t specify how much each commissioner would get. At the time, they argued that limiting a commissioner’s salary to $119,517 a year limits the pool of qualified candidates.

Under Dayton’s plan, the highest paid commissioners will receive an annual salary of $154,992. The commissioners of transportation, revenue, public safety, natural resources, management and budget and human services will receive that amount.

Republicans have been critical of Dayton’s decision. Chief among them is Rep. Roz Peterson of Lakeville.

“At a time when take-home pay for families remains flat and some Minnesotans are still struggling to make ends meet, it’s outrageous that the governor would approve enormous salary increases for commissioners and political appointees already making six-figure salaries,” Peterson said once news of the salary boosts became public.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis called the Republican fixation on the issue a “distraction.” He pointed out that Peterson, who served on the Lakeville School Board before serving in public office, voted to increase pay for some school officials. One superintendent’s contract also allowed the board to approve up to $7,000 in bonuses, too.

“[Peterson] is on the record saying how important it is that we compare superintendent salaries with the private sector because that’s how you can attract the best people to do the work in a public position paid for by taxpayer dollars,” Thissen said.

Peterson said her situation is different because the school officials’ contracts were negotiated in public, while Dayton’s decisions were made unilaterally.

“A 2 percent increase looks quite different than a $35,000 salary increase on top of a $5,000 salary increase that they received years prior,” Peterson said. “I think that’s the part we’re most concerned about.”

Peterson has introduced a bill that would give the Legislature the opportunity to weigh in on cabinet member pay.