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How should lawmakers be paid?

Posted at 11:28 AM on April 30, 2008 by Michael Marchio

Remember last year when lawmakers voted to raise their per diem pay? It's something the public doesn't take too kindly too, as most people don't have the luxury of raising their own pay. Even though lawmakers salaries haven't changed since 1999, when they were set at $31,000 annually, bumping their daily pay from $66 to $96 in the Senate and $77 in the House didn't make them any friends, and a lawsuit is even in the works taking the per diems on.

There's a new bill, sponsored by Sen. Tarryl Clark, that could change that. SF3792, would add a constitutional amendment to next year's election ballot that could create a council that would decide on the salaries and other compensation - such as for transportation, or housing for lawmakers that live further than 50 miles outside of the cities. Here's who it would make it up:

Eight nonjudges named by the Chief Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court, and one person from each congressional district (8) in the state named by the governor. Four named by the Chief Justice and four named by the governor must be members of the majority party, and the other four named by the Chief and the four by the governor must be members of the minority party.

Its an interesting idea, and when you take a look at the way the question is worded, seems like a likely thing to pass if it makes it to the ballot.

Here's the question:

"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove legislators' ability to set their own salaries and instead establish a council to prescribe salaries for legislators and elected executive branch officers?"

The phrase "remove legislators' ability to set their own salaries" seems like it would resonate with the public. The one thing I'm curious about with this, though, is why the only requirements for who would make up the council is that it have equal representation for DFLers and Republicans. It seems like they would want people with some nonpartisan mediation experience.

Lawmaker pay is a sticky issue, because most lawmakers have another job that they do when the Legislature isn't in session. But at the same time, some don't, and work at the Legislature through the whole year. What do you managers think, should their pay be decided by someone other than themselves?

House and Senate will both be having floor sessions today, so check back to see what they're taking up.