There's a constitutional amendment question on the ballot this year – here's what it means - Bring Me The News

There's a constitutional amendment question on the ballot this year – here's what it means

Should legislators decide their own salaries?
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A sample ballot of the constitutional amendment question.

A sample ballot of the constitutional amendment question.

When you head to the polls, you'll notice there's a proposed constitutional amendment question on the ballot.

It's about legislators' power to set their own salaries, and whether that should be taken away. If the amendment passes, it'll be a major change to how lawmakers' pay is decided – and could mean they get a raise for the first time in nearly a decade.

Here's a breakdown of what all this means.

How will the amendment change things?

The proposed amendment reads, in part: "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to remove state lawmakers' power to set their own salaries, and instead establish an independent, citizens-only council to prescribe salaries of lawmakers?" (For the full text of the proposed amendment, click here.)

Currently, under the state constitution, state senators and representatives determine their own salary – kind of. Whatever salary they decide on must pass the Legislature and get signed off by the governor. And if all that happens, it doesn't go into effect until after the next House election (which happen every two years).

This amendment would change all that. Instead, a 16-member council would decide legislator pay every two years. This document gives all the nitty-gritty details, but essentially the governor and the Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice would pick the council members, with appointees split evenly between the two major political parties. (Note: council members can't include past or present legislators, their spouses, lobbyists, judges or state employees.)

How does it pass?

You can vote yes or no on the amendment. But know that if you leave the question blank, it counts as if you voted no.

To pass, more than half of the total ballots cast in the election must be yes votes (technically 50 percent plus one must be in favor of the amendment), according to the Office of the Secretary of State.

Why should I care?

Lawmakers currently make a base salary of $31,141 (plus any expenses they get reimbursed for), the National Conference of State Legislators 2016 survey shows.

And that salary hasn't changed since 1999, MPR News noted, despite the salaries of other state employees going up (legislative aids now make more than their bosses – although their position is considered year-round, unlike legislators), MinnPost explains.

Even though the constitution says lawmakers set their own salaries, they've avoided giving themselves a raise because, well, it's a little awkward. Plus, raising their own pay can be a political firestorm, the National Conference of State Legislators notes.

So if this amendment passes, it could mean lawmakers get their first raise in years. (That is, if the council agrees to a raise.)

This is where the argument of for and against comes in. Those who support it say it's a conflict of interest to have lawmakers decide how much they should get paid.

People who are against it say the amendment could give lawmakers a raise without them having to vote on it and justify why they deserve more money.

Why am I just learning about this now?

Because no major groups have really come out in support or in opposition of of the ballot question, unlike previous constitutional amendment proposals.

The Office of the Secretary of State is required to post links of organizations or individuals that have an opinion on any ballot question, so long as they submit it to the office.

Only two groups have done so: The Libertarian Party of Minnesota and a website called Voter's Point of View – they both oppose the amendment.

What do other states do?

About 20 states have an independent council that decides legislator pay, according to MinnPost. Three of the states have councils that pay legislators more than what Minnesota lawmakers make, the Pioneer Press says. That includes California – legislators there make the most in the nation – a salary of more than $100,000, a 2016 survey by the National Conference of State Legislators shows.

Overall, lawmakers in most states don't make very much. Research done in 2014 found the median base pay for a lawmaker was $20,833, FiveThirtyEight said in a story that tries to tackle how much lawmakers should get paid.

To find news, commentary, and local events leading up to the 2016 election, head to Go Vote MN.

Related

Governor complains about legislature's push for constitutional amendments

Governor Mark Dayton says legislators should engage in 'give and take' instead of going around him with constitutional amendments. He says he's most concerned about measures that take away people's rights. The legislature approved a measure to let voters decide on same-sex marriage. Both houses have also approved voter I.D. amendment bills. Some lawmakers are pushing for a amendment to ban mandatory union membership.

Blank ballots could seal fate of marriage amendment

After so many fierce debates, months of campaigning and millions of dollars spent, the marriage amendment could be decided by people who leave the question blank on their ballots, MPR reports. A blank ballot counts as a "no" vote on the question of whether a marriage should be defined in the state constitution as between a man and woman. To be approved, the measure needs 50 percent of voters to vote "yes."

Ritchie changes title of the marriage amendment ballot question

Secretary of State Mark Ritchie has submitted the title “Limiting the Status of Marriage to Opposite Sex Couples" to Attorney General Lori Swanson for final approval, the Associated Press reports. Supporters of the constitutional amendment want it titled, "Recognition of Marriage Solely Between One Man and One Woman."

More questions could be headed to Minnesota's 2012 ballot

The marriage amendment may not be the only proposed Constitutional amendment put to the state's voters this year. Republican lawmakers are considering ballot questions on other issues. Those include needing an ID to vote, needing a supermajority to pass a tax increase, and making union membership voluntary.

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