- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 14, 2017

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Tuesday he’s exploring whether the Legislature can reject a recently approved $14,000 raise, reflecting the continuing fear of political backlash even though lawmakers themselves did not approve the 45 percent pay increase.

Lawmakers’ impending raise, from $31,000 to $45,000 was set in motion last week by the Legislative Salary Council, an independent body that Minnesota residents voted overwhelmingly to create in November via a constitutional amendment. It will be legislators’ first raise since 1999 when it takes effect in July.

The Legislature put that question on the ballot in 2013, following countless attempts to raise pay that faltered amid concern that it wouldn’t sit well with voters. Even though that power now rests with a 16-member independent council, lawmakers likely would still have to authorize the additional funding to cover the larger checks.

Daudt’s unease makes clear that the political fear that kept lawmaker wages stagnant for nearly two decades persists.

“Is this binding on us? Do we have an option?” Daudt said Tuesday, adding that he planned to seek legal advice to answer that question. “If it’s an option for us, we may opt out of it.”

Minnesota’s Senate is controlled by Republicans, too. But the Republican legislative leaders are split.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said it’s clear that regardless of whether they put up the money, he believes that all 201 lawmakers will get a bigger paycheck starting in July - it’s now in the state constitution.

Daudt put the predicament at the feet of Democrats, who in 2013 added the question to November’s ballot when they controlled the entire Legislature. A Democrat-led attempt to raise pay stalled earlier that year.

“We’re going to maybe be forced to increase our own pay, or at least provide the money for it,” Daudt said. “I don’t think Minnesotans knew at the time that this was going to mean a pay increase.”

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk agreed with Gazelka that the constitution is now clear: Lawmakers will be paid more.

“I don’t quite understand the anxiety,” Bakk said. “If people don’t want the pay raise, give the $14,000 to charity.”

Daudt said he wasn’t sure whether he or his fellow 76 Republicans in the House would reject the extra pay.

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