See more of the story

Minnesota legislators' expenses jumped back up to pre-pandemic levels last year, after their costs fell in 2020.

House members received more than $2.3 million from taxpayers beyond their annual salaries, and senators got close to $1.7 million, expense reports from 2021 show. The combined expenses were up about $825,000 over the previous year.

Minnesota's 201 lawmakers earned an annual salary of $46,500 in the first half of 2021, which was then boosted to $48,250 on July 1. On top of that, representatives can file for a daily per diem of $66 and senators can get $86, along with receiving reimbursements for other costs including housing and mileage.

Sen. Tom Bakk was the biggest spender last year, receiving nearly $56,500 for travel, lodging, communications and other expenses on top of his regular salary.

Bakk, an Independent, and former GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of East Gull Lake each received more than $50,000 from taxpayers to cover various costs. Bakk, who lives in the northern Minnesota city of Cook, noted that legislators from outside the metro require higher reimbursement sums because they need housing in St. Paul, have larger districts to travel around and longer drives to reach the State Capitol.

"It's a cost of serving and it shouldn't come out of a person's pocket," said Bakk, who is chair of the Senate's Capital Investment Committee.

He has been touring the state looking at capital investment projects over the past year, and he said committee chairs also need to be at the Capitol more frequently than other legislators.

In the House, DFL Rep. Rob Ecklund spent the most, clocking in at more than $40,500. Ecklund, who is also a committee chairman, lives in International Falls. His mileage added up to far more than his colleagues, and he said his housing costs were high because he had a hard time finding an apartment to rent and opted to stay in a hotel when he was in St. Paul last year.

"From my home to the Capitol one way is 290 miles," Ecklund said, adding, "All of it is a factor of seniority in the caucus, having more responsibilities and the absolute distance I have to travel."

If reimbursements for things like housing and mileage are removed and only per diem totals compared, Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls, received the most money with nearly $17,000 in per diem receipts. He is followed by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, and Bakk. In the House, three metro DFL members received the most: Rep. Fue Lee, of Minneapolis, who is Bakk's counterpart as the House Capital Investment Committee chairman, along with Rep. Jay Xiong of St. Paul and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, who lives in Golden Valley.