by T.W. Budig
A House committee today (Thursday, Jan. 20) approved a state employee salary freeze bill supporters depict as saving state jobs, detractors as gumming-up contract negotiations.
Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, argued his “hard” salary freeze bill, which would not apply to current state employee contracts but those crafted after July 1, was an attempt to keep more state employees on the job.
“It’s about job protection,” he said.
One estimate has it that McNamara’s salary freeze applied to about 42,000 state employees could save the state about $62 million over the upcoming two-year spending cycle.
Republicans on the House State Government Finance Committee expressed strong support for McNamara’s proposal.
Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, a professor at St. Cloud State University, said he thought on the campaign trail that it would be worth mentioning that a wage freeze applied to him.
But rather than applaud, Banaian said voters peppered him with stories about job losses and salary cuts.
“I learned to shut up about my wage freeze the hard way,” Banaian said.
Other Republicans spoke of the wage freeze as being entirely acceptable.
Some Democrats thought otherwise.
Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, argued the best way to deal with state employee wages was for lawmakers to make their budget cuts and allow state contract negotiators to take it from there.
“Why bind their hands?’ he asked.
Democrats tried to amend McNamara’s bill to make it applicable for just two years — McNamara didn’t support the amendment and it failed.
Committee Chairman Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said it was unfair to label the legislation a permanent salary freeze because the next Legislature could change the law if they wanted.
The worst thing lawmakers could do, explained Lanning, would be to let future contract negotiations reach fruition and then vote tor reject the contracts.
The bill passed the committee on a party line vote.
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton at a morning press conference expressed dismay over recent proposals to freeze teachers’ salaries or cut the number of state employees.
“I’m really shocked,” he said of tone of the debate in which state government has been referred to as the “beast.”
Public servants are not “beasts,” said Dayton.
Additionally, Dayton called the idea that state employees are overpaid and too numerous a “myth.”