Voters To Decide on MN Legislator Pay Raises

Members of Minnesota’s legislature are not the only thing on the ballot this November, their power to set their own pay is at stake as well.

Currently, the Minnesota legislature is responsible for all changes in its members pay. So if they were to raise their pay exorbitantly, voters’ only recourse would be to remove them at the next election cycle as punishment.

That would all change if Amendment One passes. The ballot initiative is titled “Remove Lawmakers’ Power to Set Their Own Pay” and reads as follows:

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove state lawmakers’ power to set their own salaries, and instead establish an independent, citizens-only council to prescribe salaries of lawmakers?”

A “yes” vote would put the power in the hands of a proposed 16 member independent commission including eight members appointed directly by the Governor. The remaining eight would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Both would appoint one member from each of Minnesota’s eight congressional districts to serve on the board. Members of the panel must be equally pulled from the two parties holding the most seats in the Minnesota legislature.

Current or former office holders in either the legislature or statewide executive offices will be precluded from serving on the panel. Also precluded would be spouses of current legislators, lobbyists, and employees of any entity serving the executive or judicial branches.

Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-6B) introduced the ballot initiative in the House  where it passed by a 69-62 margin. Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-4) introduced it in the Senate where it passed 40-25. Proponents of the amendment argue that it removes a conflict of interest for legislators, and that their time can be spent better on things besides arguing how much they should be paid.

“Taking the responsibility and the privilege of setting legislative salaries off of the House and Senate floor is appropriate,” wrote Shannon Watson in a piece for MinnPost.

Watson is the founder of Definitely Someday, a firm dedicated to helping ordinary people plan a future run for political office.

“Giving this power to a citizen board will ensure that pay for our elected officials is reasonable, realistic, and representative of the will of the people,” wrote Watson.

Critics of the Amendment meanwhile focus on the measure as a power grab by the executive branch, and the inability of the people to hold an appointed board accountable.

“I think the concern is that voters will see it as a way to say ‘no’ to pay raises or what they might perceive as pay raises for legislators,” Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-12) told MPR, “But if they vote for the amendment, they will actually be voting to put this in a third-party’s hands, making it probably easier for pay raises to go through.”

Several other states have similar panels in place already. Minnesota’s legislative pay currently ranks 19th in base pay out of 39 states which pay their legislators an annual salary at $31,141 a year.

Anders Koskinen