Most Minnesota lawmakers still accepting paychecks during government shutdown
As Minnesota's government shutdown entered its 12th day today, most legislators were still collecting paychecks -- despite an ongoing budget impasse that has furloughed more than 20,000 state workers, halted road construction and affected people and programs across the state.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and 62 of the 200 state lawmakers declined to accept their paychecks during the shutdown. Dayton is paid $120,303 annually, while a legislator's year-round pay adds up to $31,140.
Still, nearly 70 percent of legislators are accepting pay this month, including about 72 percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats.
Scroll to the bottom of the story to see a list of local lawmakers who declined their July paycheck, and those who collected it.
Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston, said she began declining her wages as soon as the shutdown started July 1 when the next two-year budget wasn't in place to fund state programs, services and workers.
But she said it's a "personal decision" for each legislator, many of whom rely heavily on their state income to make ends meet.
"Not everyone is capable of not taking an income," Kiel said. "And truthfully while some of us have chosen not to take this income, we're still working. So everybody's still very much involved and working, which makes it really hard for their other employers."
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said he is no longer taking per diem pay to cover daily expenses but is still accepting his regular wages. But he said there's not a "direct connection" between taking his pay and the fact that thousands of state workers aren't collecting a paycheck during the shutdown.
"If I knew that it would help, I certainly would be supportive," he said. "But it doesn't seem like that's going to move us to some kind of a resolution to the problem."
Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said the shutdown has already caused "tremendous" consequences for the state beyond the furloughed state workers, closed state parks and scaled back services and programs that residents rely on.
He said Minnesota's bond rating lost one level of accreditation due to the budget stalemate, a development that will force higher interest rates the state and cities, school districts and counties.
"The last time Minnesota lost its top rating for credit, it took us 15 years to get it back," he said. "It's going to cost millions of dollars. It's not going to just jump back in place once the budget is resolved; it's going to go on for who knows how many years."
Skoe is still accepting pay during the shutdown and said it's justified because he's still working toward a resolution -- he's gone to St. Paul since the legislative session drew to a close, met with the Bemidji City Council on Monday and planned to visit officials in Park Rapids and Brainerd this week.
"I'm working, and I'm working hard," he said. "I'm leaving my farm and I'm supposed to be farming at this time of year."
Still, he said it doesn't seem like much progress has been made since most government operations came to a halt on July 1. Even two weeks into the shutdown, there's a $1.4 billion gap between Dayton and the Republican majority in the House and Senate when it comes to total spending for the next two years.
"The responsibility of governing is the responsibility of the majority party," he said. "They have to find compromises that are acceptable to enough legislators to get the bill passed and the governor to sign, and this inability of the majority to move off of their conference committee decision has put us in a terrible mess."
Kiel said there are many "problems" caused by the shutdown -- furloughed state workers will be able to file for unemployment, but it's also stopped other services like childcare assistance and cost the state money from not selling lottery tickets and keeping state parks closed during the normally busy summer.
But she said many constituents are telling her to hold the line -- Republicans want to limit the next two-year budget to $34 billion, while Dayton is calling for revenue increases and nearly $1.5 billion in additional spending.
"I'm getting contacts from people that, while not happy about the shutdown, they do not feel that we should spend anymore," she said. "$34 billion is our highest budget in Minnesota. I hear from people that want Dayton's offer, but I'm also hearing from quite a few people who don't."
Stumpf said Democrats made several concessions during negotiations to try to avoid the shutdown. Dayton's original budget proposal started out around $39 billion and now is down to more than $35 billion, he said, while Republican leaders "started with $34 billion and they're still at $34 billion."
The shutdown "hurts people," he said, but giving into Republican demands to drop the budget down to $34 billion would "probably hurt more people than those people who are out of work right now" because of the long-term cuts to services and programs that would be required.
"The sense I get from what's going on is that when Gov. Dayton comes to $34 billion, then there will be a settlement," he said. "But a solution usually depends on some worth of negotiations. If one party says, 'No, I'm not going to negotiate,' then the only thing you can do is hold and see if the public pressure will build or go to their position."
Johnson reports on local politics. Reach him at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnsonReports.
Lawmakers who declined pay:
Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township
Rep. David Hancock, R-Bemidji
Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston
Rep. Carolyn McElfatrick, R-Deer River
Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji
Legislators who accepted their July paycheck:
Rep. Kent Eken, DFL-Twin Valley
Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau
Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker
Rep. John Persell, DFL-Bemidji
Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids
Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer
*Source: Minnesota House and Senate payroll offices