Lawsuit seeks MN lawmaker pay raises amid funding feud

The post-session funding feud between DFL Gov. Mark Dayton and the Republican-controlled Minnesota Legislature has spawned its first lawsuit.

But in this case, the plaintiffs are not challenging the constitutionality of Dayton’s line-item vetoes of the House and Senate budgets. They’re instead trying to make sure that legislators continue to receive paychecks, and at the higher salary recently prescribed by an independent council.

Attorney Erick Kaardal filed a petition Monday in Ramsey County District Court on behalf of a watchdog group that calls itself the Association for Government Accountability. Kaardal said the group is asking the court to order Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans to pay legislators at the higher salaries, which are now mandated by the state constitution.

“Governor Dayton can resolve this quite quickly by telling his commissioner ‘pay the legislative salaries,’” Kaardal said. “That’s all he has to do, because it’s already prescribed by law. We don’t need an appropriation, because it’s prescribed by law, and we don’t really need to go through this court process.”

Voters approved a constitutional amendment last fall that turned over legislative pay decisions to the Legislative Salary Council. The council decided to raise lawmaker pay from its 1999 level of $31,000 up to $45,000. But Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt fought against the raise, and lawmakers didn’t set aside money for it.

Kaardal said Daudt was wrong to ignore the council’s salary increase, and Dayton’s line-item veto compounded the error.

“When the people pass a constitutional amendment, they expect the politics to work out within that framework,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Legislature has hired outside counsel for an expected legal challenge of Dayton’s line-item vetoes. Republican House and Senate leaders contend the governor’s action violated the constitution.