ST. PAUL, MIN. (UKTN) – The pandemic upset much of daily routines, and the Minnesota legislature was no exception, with remote work defining much of regular and special sessions that lasted 17 straight months.
But the more some things changed, others stayed the same – like the ability of lawmakers to claim daily expense payments called per diems. No receipt required.
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In 2020, there was a special session of at least one day per month starting in June, after the regular session ended in May, to renew the governor’s COVID emergency powers. All of these sessions totaled 26 days of work, and legislators in total demanded per diems in excess of $ 170,000.
Several lawmakers received per diems during the 2020 regular session, but none during last year’s special sessions. A few lawmakers took no part of the additional pay.
Per diems during the pandemic – between all sessions of 2020 and the regular session of 2021 – cost Minnesota more than $ 3.2 million, according to the House and Senate expense records of the budget office from the room. That number is set to rise: None of the chambers paid a per diem for the June special session, in which lawmakers had to work overtime to balance the $ 52 billion budget. Those cost reports will be available in August, the staff said.
Members of Minnesota House are entitled to $ 66 per day and the Senate to $ 86 per day. This is in addition to accommodation and travel reimbursements and their annual salaries, which just dropped from $ 46,500 to $ 48,250 as of July 1, according to the Legislative Wages Council.
This council, approved by voters via a constitutional amendment in 2016, is made up of appointees from across the state who are not part of the legislature but are responsible for signing the salaries of lawmakers so that lawmakers themselves do not set. not these settings.
The group urged the House and Senate to get rid of the additional daily expense payments, writing in a March report detailing their salary increases that “payments of fixed dollar amounts do not reflect actual member expenses that are incurred. “.
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They noted that the IRS treats payments as income and state per diem factors when determining retirement benefits. The gap between the House and the Senate – $ 66 to $ 86 – supports the “concern” that the daily boost point has little to do with spending.
“Members strongly believe that for most lawmakers per diem is a non-transparent form of additional pay,” the report said. “Members of the Legislative Wages Council have indicated that they would support a pay rise if per diems were removed. “
Senator John Marty, DFL-Roseville, at a meeting on Senate budget and staff salaries on Wednesday, urged colleagues to consider changing the payment structure in the future, calling the issue a “hot potato policy “that no one wants to touch.
“I don’t think that’s going to change in the next few years, but if we do what we told the voters we wanted with this amendment, we would hand the compensation over to an independent board. I think it’s the right thing to do, ”Marty said. “I think this is the level of transparency promised to voters.”
But so far, calls to end daily lump-sum payments have come to naught.
Senate Secretary Cal Ludeman said at the hearing that Minnesota was “halfway” when it comes to paying lawmakers versus paying other state legislatures for their members. To see how Minnesota compares to other states, click here.
Senate records show some lawmakers joined remotely from Alaska, California, Hawaii and Kansas during the June special session.
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Last year, a lawmaker joined a meeting from the golf course.