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Reality Check 'Raising The Roof':  Higher Salary Limits for Local Government Employees

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is recommending pay hikes for top public officials around the state – just weeks before he leaves office.

Some of those government salaries, covered by taxpayers, are already hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

The Twin Cities' sprawling transit system is a model of urban planning.

And Metro Transit's General Manager gets paid $208,712 a year. Next year, he's getting a big pay bump.

That's just one of 22 government positions for which outgoing Gov. Mark Dayton will raise pay limits.

The list includes top government officials in Hennepin, Ramsey, Dakota, St. Louis and Scott counties.

Seven top administrators at the Metropolitan Council.

And the city of Rochester.

The Minnesota Department of Management and Budget notified a legislative commission of the pay hikes in a letter dated Dec. 5. It says higher salary limits go into effect Jan. 5, two days before DFL Gov. Dayton leaves office.

Minnesota law says local governments cannot pay employees more than 110 percent of a governor's salary, which is $127,000 – 110 percent of the governor's salary is about $175,621.

But they can apply for a waiver.

The state does give permission, but not often: out of hundreds of requests, it has agreed to only 77 times in the last 21 years: in 1997, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2004, and not again until 2017.

This year, the Dayton administration says it received 41 separate requests for pay hikes, and rejected 19 (46.3 percent) of them, and approved 22 (53.7 percent).

Here is a list of new, recommended higher salary limits:

  • Hennepin County:

Administrator $250,100

Deputy Administrator $217,300

CFO $190,000

Chief Human Services Office: $190,000

Chief Info Officer $190,000

Director, Human Services: $190,000

Director, Public health $190,000

  • Ramsey County

Manager $220,375

Deputy Manager $195,775

  • Dakota County

Manager $198,794

Deputy Manager $178,914

  • St. Louis County

Administrator $188,600

  • Metropolitan Council

GM, Metro Transit $297,250

GM, Environmental Services $235,750

Regional Administrator $246,000

Deputy GM $230,625

Chief Information Officer $190,000

Chief Financial Officer $190,000

  • Scott County

Administrator $178,242

  • City of Rochester

Administrator $194,750

GM, Rochester Power $189,625

A fiscal analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Coordinating Commission estimates the pay hikes from 4 percent in Scott County, to 43.6 percent for the general manager of Metro Transit.

Here are the numbers, including current salary limits, and what is proposed. The numbers are arranged by appointing authority, the position, the current limit and the percentage increase:

  • City of Rochester; city administrator; 176,822; 194,750; 10.1 percent
  • City of Rochester; general manager: Rochester Power; 176,822; 189,625; 7.2 percent
  • Dakota County; county manager; 176,820; 198,794; 12.4 percent
  • Dakota County; deputy county manager; NA; 178,914
  • Hennepin County; chief financial officer; 171,338; 190,000; 10.9 percent
  • Hennepin County, chief human resources officer; 171,338; 190,000; 10.9 percent
  • Hennepin County; chief information officer; 171,338; 190,000; 10.9 percent
  • Hennepin County; county administrator; 220,471; 250,100; 13.4 percent
  • Hennepin County; assistant county administrator; 176,821; 217,300; 22.9 percent
  • Hennepin County; director, human services; 171,338; 190,000; 10.9 percent
  • Hennepin County; director, public health; 171,338; 190,000; 10.9 percent
  • Metropolitan Council; chief financial officer; 171,330; 190,000; 10.9 percent
  • Metropolitan Council; chief information officer; 171,330; 190,000; 10.9 percent
  • Metropolitan Council; deputy general manager; 171,330; 230,625; 34.6 percent
  • Metropolitan Council; general manager: metro transit; 208,712; 297,250; 42.4 percent
  • Metropolitan Council; general manager: env services; 171,330; 235,750; 37.6 percent
  • Metropolitan Council; regional administrator; 171,330; 246,000; 43.6 percent
  • Metropolitan Council; general counsel; 171,330; 190,000; 10.9 percent
  • Ramsey County; county manager; 171,338; 220,375; 28.6 percent
  • Ramsey County; deputy county manager; 171,338; 195,775; 14.3 percent
  • Scott County; county administrator; 171,338; 178,242; 4.0 percent
  • St. Louis County ; county administrator; 176,819; 188,600; 6.7 percent

Minnesota House Republican leaders, including the Republican chair of the Subcommittee on Employee Relations, call the raises "exorbitant."

"I'm troubled by the number of raises — including some exorbitant increases in the tens of thousands of dollars, and a Metro Transit employee who would be paid nearly $300,000 — being pushed through by the Dayton administration and Gov.-elect Walz's new budget commissioner," said Rep. Marion O'Neill, R-Maple Grove. "These employees already enjoy salaries that are several times higher than the median income for Minnesota families, and I intend to recommend to Commissioner Frans that they not approve these sky-high requests."

But Minnesota Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans strongly defended the pay hikes, calling them carefully studied and below the national average.

"These wages are reasonable, and make sense, and should be supported," Frans said. "They are not outrageous."

Responding directly to Republicans, Frans said:

"Why would you not want Minnesota workers to be paid a fair wage commensurate with other states? Why would you not want to be fair? If they have a problem, they can change the state law."

A 2013 Associated Press analysis found 145 city and county employees made more than the governor, but that number is likely much higher because few official statewide records are kept.

Local governments are required to post the top three salaries of their employees, but not the salaries of other workers.

That's Reality Check.

Here Are Some Of The Sources We Used For This Reality Check:

MN State Law Compensation

MN Leg Salary Council History

MN Leg Coordinating Commission

MN Leg Background On Executive Pay

Associated Press: 140 Local Government Officials Make More Than Governor

Mpls/St. Paul Business Journal: Highest Paid Employees In Minneapolis And St. Paul

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