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Council could set legislators’ pay

Published (5/16/2008)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Is the current method of legislators setting their own salaries a conflict of interest, or is it a matter of remaining accountable to voters?

In the end, the House voted 91-43 May 12 to put before voters at the November election a question to amend the state constitution to remove legislators’ ability to set their own salaries, and establish a citizen-only compensation council to make pay recommendations. It awaits action by the full Senate.

Rep. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), who sponsors HF3796*/SF3793 with Sen. Tarryl Clark (DFL-St. Cloud), calls the current method of salary determination a “conflict of interest.”

Successfully amended by Rep. Larry Hosch (DFL-St. Joseph), the council would also consider the amount of per diem payments. Per diem is a daily payment available when legislators are engaged in official business.

The annual compensation rate of $31,140 for legislators has not been increased since 1999. Members raised the per diem payment in 2007 to $77 a day for House members and $96 for senators. They are also reimbursed for housing and travel expenses.

Rep. Paul Kohls (R-Victoria) said it is the obligation of legislators to stand up and vote on how to spend taxpayers’ dollars. He tried unsuccessfully to amend the bill so that any recommendation put forward by the council would need legislative approval. “The arrogance of this bill is we are going to hide behind some new council to make the tough decision for us. This amendment would give us the opportunity to vote it up or vote it down.”

Eken countered, “I think it is arrogance for us to think that we should set our own salaries. I think it is arrogant for us to say that we know best what our salary should be.”

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