'Equal pay' bill moves forward, despite critics

A proposed study comparing compensation for public- and private-sector workers drew criticism from opponents who argued it was flawed and unnecessary.

Rep. Keith Downey (R-Edina) sponsors HF2033. As introduced, the bill proposed requiring public employees’ compensation packages to be in line with their private-sector counterparts. Downey successfully amended the bill to scale it down into a nonbinding study comparing public and private salaries and benefits.

“The purpose of it is to part the clouds and hopefully answer, once and for all… this overriding question that we always seem to come back with, and this is, ‘Are we fairly compensating our employees here in state government?’” Downey said.

The House State Government Finance Committee approved the bill, as amended, on a 12-8 party-line vote. It now moves to the House Ways and Means Committee. There is no Senate companion.

A 2010 study by the Minnesota Taxpayers Association found that more than half of all state jobs had no directly comparable private-sector counterparts. (i.e. state troopers, prison guards, etc.) Of those that did, 72 percent were compensated at least 5 percent more than their private-sector counterparts, and 18 percent were compensated at least 5 percent less. Downey said his bill would provide for a more definitive study that would benefit the public debate on the issue.

Eliot Seide, executive director of AFSCME Council 5, said the bill represented the opening salvo in a war on collective bargaining rights. He argued its real goal is to provide a justification for legislative interference into future contract negotiations.

“Make no mistake about it: this bill would turn Minnesota into Gov. Scott Walker’s Wisconsin,” Seide said, referring to the recent political battle between public employee unions in Wisconsin and the state’s Republican governor.

Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) questioned the underlying premise of the bill — that public-sector compensation should necessarily track with the private sector.

“I think there are a lot of people who would dispute that private sector employees are fairly paid,” Winkler said.

A fiscal note from Minnesota Management & Budget projects that the study proposed in the bill would cost $3.1 million. It also estimated that 40 percent of state jobs have no directly comparable private sector matches.

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    Nick Busse