Mark Dayton defends large raises for state employees against Republican attacks

Gov. Mark Dayton recently gave 26 state commissioners and agency heads raises totaling more than $800,000 annually, including $35,000 jumps for some employees.

As you'd probably expect, fiscally conservative Republicans in the legislature aren't happy about it. The chair of the House State Government Finance Committee, Rep. Sarah Anderson (R-Plymouth), promised to hold hearings about the raises, and today, Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) introduced an amendment aimed at undoing them. (That amendment was later approved.)

Outside legislative action of that sort, however, there's little lawmakers can do about the raises. That's because a law passed by the then-DFL-controlled legislature back in 2013 gave the governor the authority to increase state employees' salaries (within certain bounds) without the prior approval of the legislature.

Today, in an effort to nip some of the attacks in the bud, Dayton sent legislative leaders a letter outlining the legal and philosophical rationale for the raises.

"The raises I approved were to salaries that had remained stagnant for over twelve years and thus were well below the amounts paid to people with comparable responsibilities in other states," Dayton writes. "Mid-level managers at many Minnesota companies earn more than my commissioners, who manage larger budgets and more employees. People who choose public service should expect to earn less than they would in the private sector; however, it is still instructive to compare their incomes and responsibilities."

Dayton also argues that now is the right time to give raises, as the state's finances are in much better shape than they were years ago.

Nonetheless, Republicans continue to try and make hay from the raises controversy:

One thing that might help commissioners in that effort would be to point out that even after Dayton's raises, salaries for Minnesota state commissioners and agency heads are more or less in line with what employees holding the same jobs make in other Midwest states.

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