ST. PAUL — State employees will get a 2.5% salary bump beginning next month despite disagreement in the Minnesota Legislature about whether that should be allowed, state budget directors announced Wednesday, May 20.
Minnesota Management and Budget Director Myron Frans said the raises would be allowed to occur and the labor agreements negotiated between the Walz administration and 11 labor unions representing state employees would stand despite opposition from the state Senate.
The state House of Representatives approved the contracts last week while the Minnesota Senate amended them to include a 2.25% pay increase from last year but skip a 2.5% raise that was set to kick in in July. Senators approved language that would allow the 2.5% increase to take effect retroactively if the state had a budget surplus next year.
Republicans who control the Senate argued that Minnesota shouldn't be giving state workers a pay raise when the pandemic had forced nearly 690,000 Minnesotans to file for unemployment insurance and when the state was projected to have a $2.4 billion budget deficit.
But because the Senate approved the contracts, albeit after amending them, state budget officials said the Legislature ratified the agreements and they should be allowed to take effect. Frans on Wednesday said lawmakers don't have the authority to write or edit labor contracts, only to approve or reject them. And in passing an iteration of the contracts, the Senate authorized them to take effect, he said. Roughly 50,000 state workers would be affected by the decision.
"Although the Senate chose a path that is not outlined in law, the legal effect of the Legislature’s action is to ratify the agreements that we negotiated in good faith and the compensation plans," Frans said in a news release. "MMB will implement them as submitted to the Legislature."
The state has frozen non-critical hiring and cut Gov. Tim Walz's and state commissioners' salaries by 10% to rein in state spending.
But ahead of the announcement, Republican lawmakers reiterated their intent in approving a tweaked version of the agreements. And they said state officials shouldn't consider their vote to be an outright approval of the contracts.
"The Walz administration would look very tone-deaf if they interpreted this action as full ratification of the contract, even if they invent a legal framework to justify their decision," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said. "It’s impossible to justify asking the 650,000 Minnesotans who lost their jobs through no fault of their own to help shoulder the burden of the extra costs of this contract. In fact, there are 12 unemployed Minnesotans for every state employee who would receive a raise this July."
Gazelka on Wednesday said the decision created a "chilling effect" between the Senate and the governor and called for an end to Walz's emergency powers. Under the state's peacetime emergency, Walz has enhanced authority and can deploy the National Guard or pull in federal emergency funds.
The peacetime emergency is set to end next month and an extension could be vetoed if both the GOP-led Senate and DFL-controlled House vote to block it.