Friday, May 09, 2008

Legislative salaries: Yer doin it WRONG!!! 

I had some private conversations with people on both sides of the ideological spectrum here after the per-diem debate, and at that time I suggested getting the problem solved by some changes in how legislative salaries are set. Current law says you can fix salaries for the upcoming session, but not your current salaries. As a result there was pressure to increase per diems as back-door salary increases.

So what does our senator Tarryl Clark propose? The worst of both worlds:
Lawmakers could vote next week to ask Minnesota voters to take the job of setting their salaries out of their own hands.

However, they will likely keep the power to increase their per diem and other forms of reimbursements where they now sit � with committees of their senior members.

...If approved, HF 3796/SF 3793 would give the job of setting legislative and executive salaries to the state�s Compensation Council, which now only makes recommendations.

The bills originally would have given the council � which consists of 16 citizens appointed by legislators, judges and Gov. Tim Pawlenty � the power to determine legislators� daily reimbursement rates for food and other expenses, known as per diem.

But members of the Senate and House Rules and Administration committees, who now set those rates, amended the bills to retain that power.

�The problem isn�t per diem. The problem is salary,� said Clark, who saw her bill through the Senate committee Thursday. She is the committee�s vice-chairwoman. �I believe if compensation changes, per diem will be modified downward.�

No, no, no. First of all, Clark is saying "hey, give us a salary increase and then we'll see if we can reduce those per diem. Trust us." But you obviously don't think we trust you because you could have voted salary increases yourself before. Your rules committees have proven their distrust of the system by not putting per diem rates in the hands of the Compensation Council, which has the power and the knowledge to do this. Under this bill, the Legislature could still compensate itself through per diems if it didn't like what the Compensation Council came up with. It changes no incentives and abdicates responsibility for choosing one's own salary.

I wish she was running this year. "The problem isn't per diem" is a great line when used by someone who gets $96 a day. I'd love a chance to ask her how she spends hers. You really want me to trust you to reduce that once you get your salary?

And notice, she got it not just for the days the legislature is in session, but for all the committee meeting days she took away from the capitol.

Meanwhile, last Friday oral arguments were heard in the case of Citizens for the Rule of Law's suit that we discussed last February. The AG's office is arguing that only it can bring a case against the legislature and that citizens do not have standing to file the suit. That motion should be ruled upon sometime this summer.

Here's the simple solution: Move both salaries and per diems to the Council, and cap the number of days on which per diems are paid to, say, the number of legislative days plus twenty, or some such. The symbolism of the cap would do wonders.

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