AUGUSTA — Politicians are always careful when it comes to giving themselves a raise, but a bill before the Maine Legislature would nearly double the pay of the state’s governor, now the lowest-paid in the nation at $70,000 a year.

The Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee held a public hearing Monday on the bill, which also would raise the pay of state judges by $60,000 to $70,000 a year and increase the salary for the next Legislature by up to $16,000 a year. One person testified in support of the measure and one in opposition.

The bill is based on the recommendations of a special state compensation commission, which studied the issue last fall.

“The committee has not taken a position on the substance of this bill,” said Rep. Danny Martin, D-Sinclair, the bill’s sponsor. “By reporting out this bill, the committee is not suggesting, and does not intend to suggest, that it agrees or disagrees with any aspect of the bill.”

Support for the measure came from Amy Quinlan, the director of communications for the state’s judicial branch. Quinlan said Maine’s highest judge, Maine Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Leigh Saufley, supported the pay increase for judges but also wants the bill structured so any pay increase for her position would not start until she leaves office.

One person spoke in opposition. Larry Dansinger, a Bangor resident, told lawmakers Maine should be proud of how little it pays its chief executive.

He also suggested lawmakers be paid the equivalent of the median household income for a family of four in Maine of $56, 602 – unless they already made more than that from another job or retirement – then they would be paid nothing. Those who earned less would be paid the difference under Dansinger’s proposal.

Martin said two prior Legislatures were unable to advance a raise for the governor or their successors and without broad support moving forward in 2020 would also be difficult.

“There’s never a good time to do any of this,” Martin said. “The only way this or any portion of it is going to move forward is if we have bipartisan support.”

Maine is ranked 51st among the states and the District of Columbia in pay for general jurisdiction judges – those who handle most of the legal cases in state district and superior courts – with an average salary of $113,000 a year when adjusted for the local cost-of-living index, according to a report by the National Center for State Courts. The median pay nationally for that category is $155,000, and Tennessee pays the most, an average of $194,877.

For legislators, the commission recommends increasing the total stipend paid during the two-year lawmaking session from $25,444 to $32,000 as well as adjusting mileage and lodging reimbursement rates. Lawmakers are now paid 44 cents per mile up to $38 per day or can receive a lodging rate of up to $38 per day. The commission recommends a transportation reimbursement of 58 cents per mile or the federal rate, whichever is higher. The bill also would bump the lodging reimbursement for lawmakers from $38 per day to $50 per day.

Martin, who lives in far northern Maine and is among the lawmakers who lodge in Augusta during the week when the Legislature is in session, said even long-term daily lodging rates with taxes were often well over $60 a day.

“So I’m subsidizing the state here when I continue serving in the Legislature,” he said.

The ranking Republican on the committee Sen. Paul Davis, R-Sangerville, suggested lawmakers just be compensated a flat $75 day for meals, lodging and mileage.

Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, won’t say whether she supports increasing the governor’s salary. A spokesperson for Mills said Monday that the governor believes the decision is ultimately one for the Legislature to make. Her predecessor, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, supported increasing it, and he was a vocal proponent of getting a pay hike for the state’s top elected officials.

The $70,000 salary of Maine’s governor has not changed since 1987 and is less than the compensation paid to governors in every other state as well as the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa. To match that $70,000 salary in 1987, Maine would have to pay the governor more than $160,000 today after adjusting for inflation.

The $130,000 salary recommended by the commission would lift Maine to 35th nationally in terms of gubernatorial compensation and put it on par with neighboring New Hampshire, which pays just shy of $135,000 a year. Additionally, the commission endorsed boosting the governor’s expense account from $30,000 to $40,000 a year.

 

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