Despite the removal of a 1 percent across-the-board compensation increase for state employees, the governor and other constitutional officers along with agency heads could still get a pay bump in the omnibus state government finance bill.
Sponsored by Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) and Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), HF1184/ SF1589* would appropriate about $927 million to 28 agencies, an increase of over $30 million from the last biennium.
The bill passed the House 73-60 and the Senate 39-25 Monday. It now awaits gubernatorial action.
With spending increased by about $6 million compared to the original House bill, Rep. Ernie Leidiger (R-Mayer) said the bill contains unnecessary spending and redundancy.
“It’s more money than what was originally requested,” he said. “This kind of spending without regard with who’s paying the bill, it’s unsustainable.”
Rep. Mike Benson (R-Rochester) opposed the pay increases in the bill, saying it will lead to more raises for middle-level managers.
Currently, agency heads cannot receive a salary larger than the governor, who makes about $120,000 a year. Under the bill, the salary limit for about 20 agency heads including the Department of Administration and Department of Education would increase to 133 percent of the governor’s salary and thereafter annually by the Consumer Price Index. Agency heads of smaller agencies like the Gambling Control Board and the Public Utilities Commission could make as much as 120 percent of the governor’s salary, which would increase every year by the Consumer Price Index.
In what would be the first pay increase in about 15 years, the governor’s pay would increase by 3 percent in 2015 and 2016. Constitutional officers’ salaries would also increase by 3 percent.
Despite the compensation council’s recommendations to increase legislators’ pay, increases were not included in the bill. Instead, HF1823, sponsored by Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia), sought to address the issue by allowing a citizen-only board to set their pay.
Departments look to adapt to changing technology
Under the bill, residents would have the option to pay an additional fee not to exceed $2 in order to use “e-government services.” The fee, meant to go toward more e-government services, would not be charged for viewing or inspecting of data.
In the Revenue Department, savings are expected through the automation of several services and by requiring businesses to file wage levies electronically. Debit cards or direct deposit could also be used to distribute tax refunds and save money. To ease previous concerns about misuse of data, a new provision included in the bill requests the legislative auditor to conduct data security audits of the debit cards as resources allow.
Sunset Commission to sunset
Many DFLers believe that the Sunset Commission, established in 2011 to eliminate duplicated and unneeded government departments and agencies, is itself duplicative and unneeded.
In the bill, similar duties to review advisory groups would instead be completed by the Legislative Commission on Planning and Fiscal Policy. The provision is in current law, Murphy said.
Among other appropriations, $920,000 over the biennium would allow Minnesota Public Radio to purchase equipment and upgrades to the AMBER Alert system; and $750,000 would be appropriated each year for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, a nonprofit that helps homeless veterans and families. One-time appropriations include $30,000 in matching funds for a bust or statue of civil rights leader Nellie Stone Johnson and $40,000 for a program that connects government employees with students through a reading program.