Minnesota’s Senate passed a bill Thursday that revokes Governor Mark Dayton’s ability to give out pay raises to his commissioners, but gives him a one day window on July 1, 2015 that he can give raises. Senator Sean Nienow (R-Cambridge) says that Dayton will not only reinstate the raises that the legislature cut, but he will also “go big” and raise the salaries as much as he can. Law allows the commissioners to make 120% to 130% of the governor’s salary. The raises that Dayton had given the commissioners is under that amount.
The bill passed in the Senate with no Republican votes supporting it. In the Republican controlled House, the bill passed on an overwhelming bipartisan 108-20 vote. Governor Dayton signed the bill shortly after the Senate passed it.
Dayton has not indicated what he will do on the one day window he has to reinstate or issue even greater pay raises to commissioners. “Ask me on June 30,” he told reporters.
Bill also funds Minnesota Zoo, Ebola, State Security Hospital
The politically charged pay raise issue was attached to a normally very non-political measure – funding for departments or projects that had cost overruns last year due to unforeseen circumstances. Here is a list of what the deficiency funding bill will pay for according to Governor Dayton’s office:
Responding to Public Health Threats – In 2014, the Department of Health (MDH) worked diligently to protect Minnesotans from the global threat of Ebola. MDH conducted health monitoring for over 200 people who posed a potential Ebola risk. Numerous MDH staff members were diverted to the Ebola response, and away from their regular work on federal grants. Without $891,000 in deficiency funding, MDH would have been unable to complete these federally-required activities, and would have had to repay the federal government. In addition to MDH’s costs, the bill signed into law today will reimburse Minnesota hospitals and emergency medical services $2 million for costs they incurred on Ebola prevention efforts.
Ensuring Proper Enforcement of Outdoor Recreation Laws – The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is facing a deficit in its enforcement division and is leaving 28 field staff offices vacant. As a result, conservation officers have had less capacity to respond to service calls in a timely manner. The DNR has already reduced training and fleet costs. This additional $568,000 will help alleviate the agency’s deficit – helping to protect the quality of Minnesota’s outdoor recreation and tourism.
Maintaining Services at the Minnesota Zoo – In 2014, the Minnesota Zoo faced rising operating costs resulting from increased fuel and heating prices. At the same time, the Zoo experienced a drop in attendance due to the uncommonly cold winter. The Zoo has reduced staff, but without this additional $1.35 million they would have had to close exhibits and relocate animals, which would have further-reduced attendance.
Minnesota Security Hospital – The Minnesota Security Hospital (MSH) serves the specialized needs of patients who are committed to the state as mentally ill and dangerous. The program currently is functioning under a conditional license that required MSH to add more than 75 full-time positions in order to ensure the safety of patients and staff. The Department of Human Services (DHS) has implemented cost savings measures, but the agency has not had sufficient funding to cover the deficit. This legislation will provided DHS $10.4 million to continue caring for patients and without reducing services.
Minnesota Food Assistance Program – The Minnesota Food Assistance Program (MFAP) was created by the Legislature to provide assistance to Minnesotans over age the age of 50 who do not qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. MFAP has been operating at a deficiency due to increased demand for the program. Without this $246,000 appropriation, approximately 445 Minnesotans (mostly seniors) would have had reduced access to food, as soon as April 2015.