With state and certain private workers laid off as a result of Minnesota’s government shutdown, should lawmakers accept their pay?
Differing perspectives on that question were offered by area lawmakers Thursday as the shutdown entered its second week.
City Pages, a Twin Cities publication, printed a list of state legislators who have not accepted their paychecks during the shutdown. Among area lawmakers who declined their paychecks this month were Rep. John Ward, DFL-Brainerd, and Sen. John Carlson, R-Bemidji. Continuing to receive their monthly checks were Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-Brainerd, Rep. Mike LeMieur R-Little Falls, and Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker.
Ward and Carlson said the state employee layoffs were instrumental in their decision to forego the money. Ward said the layoffs would have a huge financial impact on families and he felt he shouldn’t receive his paycheck.
“I’m still working and I will continue to work every day to try to come up with a solution,” he said. “Even though I’m working I still believe it’s important that we also share some of the hardship.
Ward also said he was the only state legislator in the Brainerd Baxter Fourth of July parade, in full view of supporters and critics.
“When I’m in the district I’m not going to be hiding,” he said.
Carlson, the District 4 senator, said he declined his paycheck because of the state and private employees whose employment has ended because of the shutdown.
“It’s more out of respect for our state employees ... that really, through no fault of their own, are out of work,” he said. “There’s a lot more at stake than state employees.”
Gazelka is accepting his check, noting that the approximate $31,000 annual salary is split up and paid monthly even though the legislative session typically runs January through May. He said he would not accept any per diem payments that result from a special session. He said that at the outset of the legislative session the Senate cut per diem payments by 10 percent.
Howes said he’s still working full time as chair of the Capital Investment Committee. He’s planning trips for the fall for his committee, working with this session’s proposed bonding bill and answering constituent mail.
He would feel different, he said, if he were off on an Alaska cruise. Howes also said he’s not a retiree with a decent pension.
“As long as I’m still working ... I think I’m still earning it.”
LeMieur said he’s continuing to do constituent work and is traveling to St. Paul on legislative business.
“I know the Republicans passed a balanced budget and got our jobs done and we’re continuing to work today,” he said. “We’re not taking any per diem or anything extra.”
MIKE O’ROURKE may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5860.