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Why Those Commissioner Raises Are Good Public Policy

Category: DFL 2014
Posted: 02/13/15 15:44

by Dave Mindeman

When Republicans put out their charges and talking points, it is sometimes amazing to me how quickly Democrats get on the defensive and think they have to either agree with the GOP or offer an apologetic defense.

The current case in point is the Commissioner pay raises.

Republicans have forced Democrats to think of government service as an offer of charity. That you should take a job, for far less money than you would get if you worked an equivalent job in the private sector and with minimal job security, and do it as charitable public service.

When Dayton raised these salaries by a sum total of $800,000 he wasn't doing it to give money away. He was doing it to make the salary fit the job description and retain good personnel. This has been long overdue. Ask Arne Carlson:

"....he (Carlson) also supports, in principle, Dayton's decision to give the raises. "It is difficult to run complicated departments, starting with finance," he said. "When I was in office, we were getting raided by the private sector constantly."

Let me give you a very current example. North Dakota has thousands of miles of pipelines running through their state. Last month a 4 inch pipeline ruptured and spilled 3 million gallons of an oil/salt water brine which might take years to properly clean up. That pipeline was relatively new and had never been inspected. About a year ago, the North Dakota legislature finally approved an authorization to hire 3 pipeline inspectors for the state. So far they have only been able to hire one and have had trouble filling the other two positions. Why? Because as soon as they make an offer, the oil and gas companies offer the candidate a better position at double or triple the salary. Now, I ask you, is that good public policy?

In a budget which totals in the neighborhood of $40 billion, arguing about salary increases of $800,000 seems absurd. Yes, maybe it is an easy target to attack. Maybe the raises seem high in comparison to the average Minnesotan's salary. But that $40 billion budget is in the hands of those Commissioners. They are responsible to make sure that budget gets distributed as intended and for the right targeted citizens. Even at the proposed salaries, they could find a job in the private sector that would carry a salary that is double and triple what the state offers. And the only job guarantee they have is that they can maybe hold it for maybe 4 years at the will of the current governor.

Republicans are always willing to argue the absurd. It is commensurate with every talking point they come up with. That shouldn't mean that Democrats have to play the absurd game as well.

Governor Dayton was willing to take whatever hit the Republicans would lay on him about bringing these salaries in line. He obviously decided to use some of his political capital to make it right. He tried to minimize the hit on other Democrats. It was his decision.

Unfortunately, Senator Bakk decided to join in on the absurd and add his own critique to the mix. Which jeopardized the proposal and potentially jeopardize the budget discussion for the entire session.

When it comes to Minnesota politics, we are forced to have to listen to GOP absurdity. But the sad part, in this instance, is that some Democrats have joined in.

Good public policy has to navigate some ridiculous ideas - I expect Democrats to navigate that policy straight and true - and not get sucked into the foolish Republican eddies.
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