ST. PAUL — Depending on which Mankato-area state senator you ask, the recent vote to raise legislators’ salaries was either a courageous way to enable citizen-lawmaking or the wrong message to send in a time of tax and spending increases.
The Senate version of the state government funding bill includes line items as varied as $1.7 million in matching grants for public television and $30,000 for a bust of the civil rights activist Nellie Stone Johnson to be placed in the Capitol.
But the legislative salary increase, from about $31,000 to about $41,000, has attracted the most attention.
The Democrats have an 11-seat margin in the Senate but only managed to pass the bill by one vote. One of its defectors was Kevin Dahle, a Democrat from Northfield whose districts includes most of Le Sueur County.
He said he cast a “principled” vote against the pay increase. Dahle said he supports the premise of the increase — legislators haven’t gotten a raise since 1998 — but said he couldn’t vote legislators a raise if nursing home workers don’t get one.
He said nursing home workers have come to him, at least once in tears, saying they have to quit their job and work at at a grocery store to make ends meet. They haven’t had a raise from the state in five or six years, he said.
“In good conscience I had to vote ‘no’,” he said. “There are a lot of things we need to shore up before we give ourselves a raise,” including the minimum wage.
Sen. Vicki Jenson, DFL-Waseca, also voted against the bill.
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, voted for the raise and said she still believes there is time in the session to help nursing home workers, too. But the decision by party leadership to reduce human services spending by $150 million makes that priority, among a host of others, more difficult to meet.