The salary of a state legislator in Minnesota is $31,140, the same it has been since 1998. This doesn’t stop legislators from collecting more than twice as much while in office.
Members of the House are also able to collect $66 in daily expenses , or per diem, during the legislative session. Senators can collect $86 per diem. Members of both chambers are able to collect reimbursements for expenses as well.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-3) has taken home the most in taxpayer money as a result of these additional compensations, reports the Star Tribune. Bakk has collected over $350,000 in total, more than twice his base pay during that time. That period also included his time as a legislative leader when his salary was higher at $43,596.
Bakk told the Star Tribune that this is mostly due to the size of his district.
“I pride myself on being responsive and accessible to the people I represent. The fact of the matter is, the people I represent are spread across 12,996 square miles,” Bakk said.
Bakk’s number is $30,000 more than the next highest Senator. Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-8) had the highest total for Republican legislators at $259,721 from 2009 to 2016. This nearly doubled his yearly legislative pay for that period.
House members have smaller districts and fewer constituents. This may contribute to the lower rate of expenses for state representatives. On average, a member of the House takes in 58 percent as much in reimbursements and per diem expenses compared with their Senate colleagues.
Bakk has been a big advocate for increasing the reimbursements and other ways for legislators to claw back money. The housing allowance for senators living more than 50 miles from St. Paul has increased three times in the last 14 years, in 2003, 2007, and in 2016. Bakk played a major role in the 2007 increase from $1,200 a month to $1,500 a month. In his final meeting as Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee he pushed for an increase to $2,000 a month. Republicans fought back, but the committee still approved an increase of $1,800 a month.
According to the Star Tribune’s data analysis, Bakk collected more than $125,000 in lodging expenses from 2009 to 2016. From 2011 to 2016 he also claimed $103,000 in driving expenses between his Senate duties, reelection campaigns, and work for the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB). This amounts to an average of 94 miles per day, every day for six years.
Bakk again pointed to the size of his district when asked about his driving expenses.
“On days that I have meetings with constituents in Grand Marais and International Falls, I’m driving four hours across almost 230 miles — not including the initial drive from my home,” he told the Star Tribune.