Paul Anderson -
NEWS FROM THE CAPITOL
The issue of governing and how it relates to politics is interesting, if not a bit frustrating. Case in point; the DFL had in its control both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office during the last biennium, but nothing was done about transportation funding. This year, with state government back in dual control between the two parties, the gas tax once again is front and center of what could be a long and drawn out process of coming up with some kind of increase to fund our roads and bridges. The reason for not taking it up last year, in the opinion of many including me, was the reluctance to increase the gas tax in an election year.
I think something similar was going on last week when Gov. Dayton announced huge pay increases for upper level members of his cabinet. The size of the increases, ranging from 19 to 58 percent, left many wondering how a sitting governor would dare take on such a risky, hot-potato political subject. To be clear, we aren’t talking about the average 9 to 5 worker here, but those at the commissioner level who work directly with the governor. And many of those salaries, after the increases take effect, will be up in the $140,000 range.
Gov. Dayton announced earlier that this past election was going to be his last. He doesn’t have to face the voters again and become the potential target of an electorate upset with the granting of big pay increases for top officials. The move was made possible when the DFL-controlled Legislature in 2013 passed a bill allowing the governor to raise his commissioners’ pay from 85 percent of the governor’s salary up to 133 percent. And it could all be done without legislative or public approval. All told, the increases could cost the state more than $1.4 million over the next two years. They took effect on Jan. 5, but it wasn’t until Feb. 4 that the Legislative Coordinating Commission was notified of the salary increases.
The annual “Dairy Day” at the Capital was held last week. Representatives from the dairy industry were on hand for a meeting of the Ag Policy Committee, and we heard testimony about the economic impact those who milk cows and those who process it have on our state. The number of dairy cows in Minnesota has been relatively stable in recent years at around 400,000, with the average herd size being around 130 head.
Also on the topic of agriculture, I had the opportunity last week to speak before two groups with direct connection to ag in our state. On Tuesday educators and legislators gathered in St. Paul to announce the opening of a new Center of Excellence within the MnSCU system to be known as AgCentric. Senator Dan Sparks, chair of the Ag Committee in the Senate, and I addressed the group as the focus was on a joint effort concerning ag education among the technical colleges in Willmar, Staples and Thief River Falls.
Then, Friday morning in Minneapolis, I spoke before the Government Affairs Committee of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association. That group was part of a three-day conference attended by well over 2,000 veterinarians and others from around the state. Among their main concerns are funding for a new bio-secure lab on the campus of the University of Minnesota and a loan forgiveness program for graduates of the College of Veterinary Medicine.