Minnesota's governor and legislators could be in line for their first pay hikes since the late 1990s, but they know any salary boost would be a tough sell to taxpayers.
On Monday night, the bipartisan Compensation Council met and voted to recommend more money for government leaders, saying their roles are trending toward full-time jobs.
The way top state agency managers are paid could also be in line for a substantial restructuring as part of recommendations from the Compensation Council.
The council is a panel of appointees representing all three branches of state government; however, out of the six legislators on the 16-member council, two didn't attend the Monday meeting and the other four abstained from voting -- including Republican Rep. Mike Benson.
"The Compensation Council's recommendation has usually not been adopted because it's politically untenable for a legislator to raise his own salary," he explained.
If adopted, the governor's $120,303-a-year base pay would go up 3% in 2015 and again in 2016. It's been unchanged since 1998.
Legislator pay would be set at one-third of what the governor makes. That would take their $31,140-a-year salaries to $40,890 in 2015. Their last raise was in 1999.
Monday's meeting is only the first step in the process, and a majority of council members believe higher salaries are the best way to recruit and keep the best government leaders. Even so, the proposal could still change, and no pay hikes would occur unless the Legislature and governor ratify any or all recommendations.
David Shultz, political science professor at Hamline University, said a pay raise for lawmakers -- who work for six months out of the year -- could prevent temptation and conflicts of interest.
"We could very well have a situation where a legislator who isn't making very much money is approached by a lobbyist who says, 'Vote for x, y and z for us. Then there will be a very nice job once you leave,' or something like that," Schultz explained. "That's the corruption issue we're worried about."
In order to avoid more criticism over salaries, Schultz said he believes the way lawmakers are viewed may need to change.
"We are now asking them to address the state budget and balance things. Maybe that's a job that requires full-time pay and full-time skills," he suggested.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.