Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday compared serving as Maine’s governor to being a priest or a nun because the salary is so low.

“I feel like a priest or a nun, you know. You go into poverty to serve the public,” LePage said in a conversation with WGAN talk radio hosts Matt Gagnon and Ken Altshuler during his weekly telephone call-in from the Blaine House, the governor’s mansion in Augusta.

The salary for Maine’s governor, at $70,000 a year, is the lowest of any governor in the United States. Most of LePage’s senior staff members make far more than their boss, although the governor is afforded living expenses and a home next to the State House.

The governor’s current salary is about $19,000 more a year than Maine’s median household income of $51,494. Under Maine law, governors also are allotted a $35,000 annual personal expense account that is not subject to audit by the Legislature, bringing the governor’s total compensation package to over $100,000 a year. Governors also live without rent, utility or food expenses while at the official residence.

But even the perks of living in the historic estate that serves as the official residence for the governor isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The first floor of the building is a historic museum, and the actual living quarters for the governor and his family are on the second floor.

LePage said he and his wife, Ann LePage, had made some renovations to the living quarters, but the building is still an old structure, built in 1832.

Still, LePage said that a bill before lawmakers that would more than double the salary of the next governor to $150,000 a year was unlikely to get his signature if it reaches his desk, and he may even veto it.

“The last time we proposed it for the next governor they made a big stink about it,” LePage said. “This time, if it passes, it will go into law without my signature. I’m not touching it. As a matter of fact, I’m tempted to lean against it now – because I think it’s horrible.”

LAST PAY INCREASE 30 YEARS AGO

The pay raise bill is being offered by state Rep. Brad Farrin, R-Norridgewock, who told lawmakers that increasing the salary is one way to ensure that qualified individuals run for governor. In his written testimony in support of the pay hike, Farrin notes that the change would be applied to the state’s next governor and not LePage. Farrin also notes that Maine last increased the salary for its governor in 1987.

“I feel that some well-qualified individuals that would consider running for governor are discouraged from the position because they are capable of making more money in other business ventures,” Farrin wrote. “Don’t we want the best-qualified individuals running for the highest office in our state?”

Farrin’s bill, L.D. 69 is scheduled for a work session before the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee on March 1.

LePage said he paid higher income taxes than what he earns as governor. In an email, Peter Steele, LePage’s communications director, said LePage was referring to his tax burden before he became governor in 2011. When asked to clarify if LePage intended to veto a pay-hike bill for the next governor, Steele wrote, “You’ll know what he does 10 days after the bill hits his desk.”

LePage’s annual compensation package for 2016 included a $15,809 health insurance package, $3,717 toward his retirement, $814 for life insurance and a $315 dental insurance policy.

According to federal poverty guidelines, the poverty level for a single person in the U.S. is $11,770. The most recent U.S. Census data show that about 14 percent of Mainers live in poverty, while 17 percent of the state’s children live in homes considered below the poverty level.

Robyn Merrill, executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, an Augusta-based nonprofit that advocates for the poor in Maine, declined to discuss LePage’s comments about his low salary, but shared her organization’s fact sheet on poverty in Maine that highlights its concerns with LePage’s most recent state budget proposal.

WELFARE CUTS, ADVICE FOR TRUMP

Among changes proposed by LePage are cuts or tighter eligibility requirements to state and federally funded welfare programs that help support the state’s lowest-income people and families. LePage also wants to reduce the maximum time that a family can receive cash benefits from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Benefits are currently capped at 60 months, while LePage’s budget would reduce that cap to 36 months.

LePage’s budget also would eliminate state support for General Assistance programs that are administered by Maine’s cities and towns. The program, according to Merrill’s fact sheet, is one of the last resorts for the poor in crisis and its elimination would “leave thousands of people facing homelessness, without a roof over their heads or enough food to eat.”

On Thursday, LePage also offered some advice to President Trump, whom he supported during the election, saying there was too much competition among Trump’s top staff. LePage said he has met Trump before and that the president, who produced and starred in the NBC reality television series “The Apprentice,” does encourage competition.

“We’ve got to tell him the TV show is over,” LePage said. “He’s got to move on now.”

LePage’s comments came just hours before Trump gave a nationally televised and wide-ranging news conference in which he described his administration as a “fine-tuned machine.”

Scott Thistle can be contacted at 791-6330 or at:

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