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Don Davis and Janell Cole, Published April 13 2009

Political Notebook: Web site reveals legislative salaries

Political circles nationwide have been buzzing for weeks about www.LegiStorm.com, which recently published Congress members’ – and their staffs’ – salaries going back several years.

For instance, former Rep. Pam Gulleson, D-Rutland, earned $88,666 in salary as senior legislative adviser for Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., in the fiscal year that ended last Sept. 30.

One can spend hours looking up people and their pay levels on the site. Search for Dorgan, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., or Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., and you’ll be offered indexes of all of their staff, past and present, hundreds of names for each, along with their salaries, going back to 2000.

The lists read like a who’s who of people in North Dakota politics and their relatives because the names aren’t just senior advisers and press secretaries and chiefs of staff. The lists include every student intern who’s put in a few weeks or months working for any member of the delegation and earning as little as a few hundred dollars.

Minn. budget problem ‘sinking in slowly’

Minnesota legislators are a month away from their deadline to send all tax and budget bills to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, but there is a doubt whether Minnesotans understand the state’s possibly serious budget problem.

Assistant Senate Majority Leader Tarryl Clark, DFL-St. Cloud, said senators are receiving few public comments about the budget.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, added: “I’m not sure we get it yet. ... This is sinking in slowly.”

The size of the problem is historic. Federal funds, tax increases, delaying payments, borrowing money and other schemes are being considered to balance the budget.

Stumpf, who has served in the Senate since 1983, said the cuts are especially hard on longtime senators.

“In many cases, you are cutting the very programs you put in place,” Stumpf said.

Web site also shows Congressional bonuses

LegiStorm also studied congressional employees’ bonuses, which news organizations and political opponents have noticed.

North Dakota Republicans complained last week that Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., “gave away bonuses and raises to his staff members in excess of $30,000 … at a time when our economy was in full decline.” The GOP says 15 Pomeroy staffers received between $1,000 to $5,000 in December.

The Wall Street Journal reports bonuses for congressional staffers appear to range from a few hundred dollars to $14,000 and are used equally by Republicans and Democrats.

The Journal article, based on LegiStorm data, says, “Capitol Hill bonuses provide a notable counterpoint to the populist rhetoric and sound bytes emanating from Washington these past weeks.”

Parties weigh in

As Norm Coleman and Al Franken awaited a ruling in Minnesota’s U.S. Senate election lawsuit, state political parties stepped up their criticism.

Minnesota DFL Party Chairman Brian Melendez recently called on Coleman to give up his legal fight to overturn Franken’s 312-vote lead. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party created a Web site and video to push for an end to Senate litigation.

Meanwhile, Minnesota Republicans said the Senate race cannot end until more absentee ballots are counted. State GOP Chairman Ron Carey said Franken should join with Coleman in arguing that some ballots that should be part of the tally remain uncounted.

Jaeger honored

North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger is Bismarck State College’s alum of the year. Jaeger, a high school teacher and real estate broker before entering politics, is a native of Beulah, N.D. In addition to his associate degree from BSC, his bachelor’s degree is from Dickinson State University. He has been secretary of state since 1993.

Ash borer nears

Minnesota officials are bracing for an invasion of the emerald ash borer.

The beetle is just a mile southeast of the Minnesota-Iowa border, state Agriculture Department officials say. They have prepared for the invasion for years.

Minnesota has about 900 million ash trees, the beetle’s favorite food.

State officials say Minnesotans can help prevent the beetle from spreading by buying all wood for campfire locally, not even transporting it within the state.

Former Dickinson woman to head GSA

Martha (Nace) Johnson, who attended Dickinson High School in the 1960s, is President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the General Service Administration, the federal government’s centralized purchasing agency.

She is a former chief of staff at the GSA and former assistant deputy secretary in the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Clinton administration.

Free-market forum set

The North Dakota Policy Council’s second annual Free-Market Forum is May 16 at the University of Mary, Bismarck. Speakers include Thomas Woods, author of “Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse.”

More information is at http://policynd.eventbrite.


Minnesota Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this report

Davis and Cole work for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Forum. Davis can be reached at (651) 290-0707. Cole can be reached at (701) 224-0830