- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Even former Minnesota lawmakers can’t agree on whether their old colleagues should make more money.

A newly created citizen commission is weighing whether to raise pay for state legislators for the first time in nearly two decades and several former lawmakers gathered at the Capitol Friday to give their two cents on legislator pay. The citizen council was formed after voters overwhelming decided to take pay decisions out of legislators’ hands.

The five speakers talked about the stresses that lawmakers face while juggling their career and a legislative seat that pays $32,000.

Former Democratic House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher was a strong supporter of an increase in legislator pay. Anderson Kelliher said increasing salaries to more than $60,000, while also getting rid of the daily stipends lawmakers get during session, would ease the burden on legislators and increase pay transparency.

She said the Legislature may be considered part-time, but the time commitment is much closer to second full-time job.

Former Rep. Mary Liz Holberg said legislators’ use of the daily stipend varies widely, and many use it as a “backdoor way to adjust salary”. Holberg said she joined the Legislature in 1999, just as the state’s last increase to lawmaker pay took effect - she never received a raise.

“I shudder to think what my hourly rate of pay was over those years,” she said. Often times, she would sleep on a couch in her legislative office to save time, rather than drive home to Lakeville because her schedule was so tight.

And sometimes, legislators sacrifice their prime money-making years to be in the Legislature. Former Sen. Gene Merriam, who worked as a CPA before becoming a state senator, said he had to leave his job when he became a lawmaker. During his 22 years in the Senate, Merriam said he never worked a full-time job.

“The pool of candidates was reduced because of the size of compensation,” he said.

Still, not all ex-legislators agreed. Former Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann said the current pay is plenty for a part-time job because people don’t join politics for the paycheck.

Hann suggested that the council may have the ability to force the Legislature’s hand on certain pay issues, such as daily stipends, mileage reimbursement and housing allowances, which the council doesn’t control. The group could attach conditional rules to their pay decision, he said, forcing lawmakers to act on those demands before any pay change occurs.

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