- Associated Press - Friday, March 10, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers will get their first raise since 1999 after a newly created citizen council voted Friday to increase annual pay for members of the Legislature to $45,000 - a roughly 45 percent pay bump.

The Legislative Salary Council’s 13-1 vote increases lawmaker pay beginning in July, making Minnesota’s part-time Legislature among the highest paid in the country. Minnesota voters themselves set the increase in motion in November, overwhelmingly approving a constitutional amendment that removed lawmakers’ ability to set their own pay and instead handed the power to an independent council.

The hefty increase reflects the increasing demands of being a politician in the state, where some lawmakers have fought to boost their own pay over the years but saw efforts stall amid fear of political backlash.

Sen. Julie Rosen, a top Republican from Vernon Center, said the raise won’t only help current lawmakers, many of whom sacrifice better pay to serve in what is a part-time Legislature in name, but a full-time job in practice.

“It sure does help broaden the base of who else would consider serving in the Legislature, which is important,” she said. “It’s disheartening when somebody wants to serve but they just can’t do it because they can’t make ends meet.”

Rep. Rick Hansen has received the same roughly $31,000 salary each year since he first joined the Legislature in 2005. He thinks the raise is warranted - he supported the constitutional amendment and previously voted for legislative pay increases - but is worried citizens may only see the $14,000 raise, not the years of stagnation.

“Voters may be angry about that, looking at a big jump,” the South St. Paul Democrat said. “This is catching up for almost 20 years.”

Though the council arrived at the salary increase easily, members struggled to come to a consensus on the daily stipends lawmakers receive during session. The group only has the unilateral power to change salary, but many members of the 16-person council still want to make a recommendation to the Legislature to eliminate those per diem payments.

To encourage lawmakers to do so, the council is planning to say they would have raised pay even higher if the Legislature didn’t receive stipends - up to $66 per day for representatives and $86 a day for senators. And the Legislature may have to authorize the extra $2.8 million of state money necessary to cover their larger paychecks.

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