Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Municipalities in Minnesota, constrained by a state law that limits public employee salaries to 95 percent of the governor's pay, have been trying to figure out ways to get around the $114,000 a year cap.
In Ramsey County, commissioners offered the county manager extra vacation days, which he can cash in when he leaves his job. That, in effect, raises his annual pay by about $15,000. More than a dozen other Ramsey county employees are eligible for such an arrangement.
Other cities and counties have taken the same path, particularly where long-time employees are bumping up against pay constraints. Localities can try to get waivers from the state to raise salaries, but that hasn't been very easy to do in the past few years.
The state Department of Employee Relations isn't pleased about the "creative" approaches. "My first look at it is that, legally, they can do what they're doing," says Cal Ludeman, DER commissioner. "I think it violates the spirit of the law."
Meanwhile, the legislature is looking at bills addressing salaries. One would repeal the cap. Another changes the cap to 120 percent of the governor's salary. The Employee Relations Department supports the cap as it stands. The state budget is tight and there has been no "alarming" evidence of recruitment or retention problems due to the salary limits, Ludeman says.
The discussion for another day, he adds, is how much of a say the state should have in local decisions, including salaries, as long as local governments accept state aid. "That takes us down a more entangled relationship road."
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