ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Last week’s confrontation over Minnesota agency commissioner pay gave way Monday to a calmer tone between two key Democrats in the middle of it, Gov. Mark Dayton and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk.
Both leaders tried to get beyond the ugly dust-up that had Dayton condemning Bakk’s trustworthiness and the Senate leader doubting the governor’s recollection of events.
It all revolves around Dayton’s decision to grant big raises to agency leaders and Bakk’s move to temporarily squash those pay hikes, which he said he discussed privately with Dayton as an option.
A provision in an important spending bill to delay the pay increases drew a sharply worded veto threat. Republican leadership in the Minnesota House hasn’t decided whether to vote on the Senate version or seek additional changes to a bill that also pays for Minnesota’s Ebola response and shores up staffing at a security hospital for sex offenders in St. Peter.
The House won’t consider the bill until later this week, and Speaker Kurt Daudt said his caucus was still deciding what route to take to both stop the raises and provide funding needed to keep vital programs operating.
After the Senate passed that bill Thursday, Dayton struck out at Bakk, saying the senator “connives behind my back” and couldn’t be trusted to live up to what he says in one-on-one negotiations.
He said his staff and the governor’s staff had spoken about moving forward but the two men hadn’t talked since last week. In his own remarks Monday to reporters, Dayton confirmed that.
“I don’t have anything new to report and I’m not going to comment on anything until,” Dayton said. He then paused and added, “We’ll work something out.”
Bakk stood by the move to suspend commissioner raises until July 1 to give lawmakers more time to delve into the issue. Dayton awarded the increases under a 2013 law that gave him the ability to pay commissioners up to 133 percent of his own salary; that led to some raises of more than $30,000.
“We may well come to the same conclusion as the governor did that these are the numbers where the commissioners should be but right now we don’t have the data,” Bakk said.
The Senate’s Republican leader, David Hann of Eden Prairie, signaled his side would keep the pressure on.
“It’s astounding to me that the governor is saying he’d veto that bill,” Hann said. “It seems odd to me that the governor would choose this issue upon which he’s going to define the whole session: of whether or not we’re going to give very large raises to commissioners.”
If the House passes the Senate version and Dayton follows through with a veto, it’s unclear whether the Democratic Senate majority would allow for an override attempt. Neither Bakk nor Senate Finance Chairman Richard Cohen, the bill’s sponsor, would address that possibility.
Cohen, a St. Paul Democrat, suspected the rift between Bakk and Dayton would be resolved before the session moves on to weightier matters.
“Things happen around this place. It’s an unusual work environment,” Cohen said. “They don’t usually happen this early, but stuff happens. There will be opportunities to sit down and resolve some of this.”
Associated Press writer Kyle Potter contributed.
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