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Bakk: Ready to move beyond Dayton flap

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook tells reporters Monday that he expects to talk to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton soon about their disagreement over commissioner salaries. (FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Don Davis)

Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk says he is ready to move on from a dustup with Gov. Mark Dayton, but Monday hinted irritation remains after the governor last week called the senator a conniver and backstabber.

Dayton lashed out at Bakk last week after the senator succeeded in passing an amendment to delay raises the governor gave his Cabinet members.

Monday, the first time Bakk talked to Capitol reporters since Dayton revealed he no longer trusts Bakk, the majority leader said that he was surprised at the governor’s reaction to the amendment as well as what brought up the dispute in the first place.

“I knew nothing about the pay raises until I read it in the paper,” Bakk said.

A state law change in 2013 gave the governor authority to give commissioners raises without legislative approval, but requires him to notify legislators within a month.

The dispute between the Capitol’s top two Democrats is rare, but not unique, Bakk said. “This is not the first skirmish between legislative leaders and the governor.”

The senator said he does not view Dayton’s attack last week as personal.

“What I learned long ago ... is never let disputes become personal,” Bakk, D-Cook, said. “There always is another issue to try to work through. After one disagreement, you need to try to find common ground.”

Bakk said that his people have talked to Dayton’s people in trying to make peace. “If I was going to make a guess, I would guess we will have a conversation this week,” Bakk said of he and Dayton.

The governor told some reporters Monday that he expects the two to work things out.

READ MORE: Dayton, Baak argue over Dayton's $830,000 in raises for his commissioners

Dayton decided to give his commissioners raises effective when he was sworn into a second term Jan. 5, but most people outside of the governor’s office and top administrators knew nothing about it until nearly a month later.

Bakk on Thursday offered his amendment to a bill providing urgent funding to several agencies through June 30. The amendment would delay raises until July 1 to give legislators time to study whether the pay jumps of up to $35,000 a year are justified.

Bakk told reporters Monday that the raises may be fine, but he said that things may have gone smoother had Dayton not given such large increases at one time.

As to Dayton’s comment that Bakk backstabbed him, the senator said, he laid out several options senators could consider to deal with the pay raises, one of which was his amendment that gained all but two senators’ votes.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, appeared happy with the Bakk-Dayton rift and tried to focus conversation on what he calls the governor’s placing big pay raises for his commissioners above other financial needs of the state.

“It seems odd to me that the governor would choose this issue to define the session,” Hann said of Dayton awarding $830,000 in more pay.

The House, meanwhile, could take a vote Thursday on a bill with its own reaction to commissioner pay raises. That measure subtracts $40,000 from three state agencies, the amount of raises commissioners in those agencies would receive by June 30.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he has talked to Bakk, Dayton and House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, about the issue, but he does not know how the provision will look once it reaches the full House. “We can do just about anything.”

While he said that Republicans would like to stop the pay raises and restore legislative oversight to commissioner raises, some things may need to wait until later in the legislative session.

“We didn’t ask for this,” Daudt said. “The Senate put the amendment on the bill and now we have to deal with it.”

Daudt said among questions that need answers is whether other workers’ salaries in state agencies are tied to commissioner pay, and thus would increase state spending.

Hann said he suggests that the House pass the Senate bill with the Bakk amendment, a measure Dayton has said he would veto.

In the meantime, Senate committee chairmen have delayed some hearings on confirming Dayton’s choices for commissioners until the flap blows over. However, Bakk said, those hearings need to come soon since after a Feb. 27 budget report, legislators’ attention will focus almost solely on passing a two-year state budget.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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