The Potluck

Bill would repeal law that limits city, county employees’ salaries at $207,000

By: - March 13, 2023 1:53 pm

Photo illustration by Getty Images

Minnesota lawmakers are considering repealing a law that caps city and county employees’ pay at nearly $207,000 this year.

The law limits local government employees’ total compensation to an amount tied to the governor’s salary, though exceptions are made for school employees, certain medical workers and elected officials.

University of Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck makes more than $6 million per year, for instance, to instruct young men in the art and science of running, throwing, kicking and pummeling each other. 

The League of Minnesota Cities says their research indicates Minnesota is the only state with a cap like it. They and the Minnesota Inter-County Association have been lobbying to remove the cap for years.

Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, DFL-Eden Prairie, and Rep. Patty Acomb, DFL-Minnetonka, introduced a bill (HF1213/SF1086) that would repeal the cap. The Senate bill was laid over for possible inclusion in a larger bill, but the League of Cities is pushing for a standalone bill. The House bill was reported out of committee a couple of weeks ago. 

Gary Carlson, lobbyist for the league, said the governor’s staff has said Walz is neutral on the bill.

The state can waive the cap based on local labor markets, but the league says that process is cumbersome and unpredictable. Last year, waivers were granted for a handful of workers, including the new Minneapolis police chief and public safety commissioner, allowing them to be paid $300,000 and $350,000, respectively.

The law was amended in 2005 so that it’s tied to the governor’s salary, adjusted annually for inflation. Those inflationary increases have pushed the cap far higher than 110% of the governor’s salary.

Since then, more and more cities and counties have sought waivers to keep up with a tight labor market. The league said the Minnesota job market has roughly two job openings for every one job seeker, and the cap can limit the ability of local government employers to attract highly qualified candidates.

Carlson said some candidates don’t even want to bother with Minnesota due to the salary limitation. The cap applies to all compensation — not just salary — such as car allowances or deferred compensation.

“We just think it’s time,” Carlson said. “It’s kind of ridiculous that we’re the only state in the nation that directly limits the compensation that can be paid by cities and counties.”

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.