Once again, the perennial issue of salary increases for the governor and legislators has reared its ugly head in Augusta. It shouldn’t come as a galloping shock: It’s been a consistent drumbeat from both parties for years, most recently from former Gov. Paul LePage.

LePage proposed increasing the gubernatorial salary a number of times – it was one of the rare issues where the fiscally conservative LePage advocated for more government spending. It wasn’t for his own benefit, however – LePage’s bill, like the one that the Legislature will consider this session, would apply only to the next governor to take office.

There are problems with both the general concept of raising the governor’s salary and the specific legislation drafted for this session. Based on participation in prior gubernatorial elections, there’s little evidence that any kind of pay raise is necessary. In 2010, Democrats had five candidates and Republicans had seven; in 2018, Democrats had seven candidates and Republicans four.

That’s a pretty high degree of interest for such a low-paying gig. The candidates weren’t all a bunch of gadflies, either: In both parties, they mostly had pretty typical resumés for the job, whether as successful businessmen or high-ranking officials. Regardless of your political feelings toward our last two chief executives, it’s hard to argue that, by any traditional measure, either Janet Mills or Paul LePage lacked the necessary experience for the job.

Moreover, the legislation takes a big leap, raising the gubernatorial salary from $70,000 to $130,000 – nearly doubling it. That might be a bit tough for many legislators to swallow, even if they think it’s time for some sort of increase. That’s the problem with the approach of setting a specific number in statute: The Legislature only guarantees itself heartache, both over the current increase and the next time the issue arises again. It would be far preferable for the Legislature to set up a scale for the salaries of elected officials and judges, one that could be constantly adjusted based on some neutral statistic or set of statistics, as they do for other state employees.

Raising the pay for legislators is an even more difficult issue than raising gubernatorial pay. Legislators have a number of other factors to consider as part of their pay, like reimbursement for mileage and lodging.

The current bill would raise their wages to $16,000 a year. That means that legislators – who, it must be remembered, are not full-time employees – would make more than full-time employees at the federal minimum wage.

Of course, a big part of the problem with the current pay level for legislators is that they’re expected to work well more than their official legislative time, and those expectations are constantly increasing. Rather than raising legislators’ salaries, the Legislature could decide to scale back their work hours. Businesses do this all the time to save money, and the state of Maine could do the same.

One part of the problem with the current structure of the Maine Legislature is its wide-open, freewheeling nature. In the first session, every single bill introduced can get a hearing and a vote in a committee. This applies equally to all legislation, and there’s no limit to how many bills any one legislator can introduce in the first session. That means that committees spend a lot of time on silly, repetitive, feel-good legislation that’s probably going nowhere or wouldn’t do much even if it does pass. While a lot of this legislation ends up being withdrawn, or unanimously killed in committee, if they get even one vote in committee they earn the right to a vote on the floor.

If the Legislature curtailed legislation more in the first regular session, lawmakers wouldn’t have to spend so many hours in Augusta. The rules could be changed so that a bill can be killed with a simple majority vote in committee, rather than unanimity being required. Leadership could also be given more say in the first session by being allowed to screen legislation, or by imposing a limit on how many bills any one legislator can introduce.

It’s easy enough to argue that we should simply raise salaries to keep up with the times, but it’s not a real, sustainable solution. Instead, it’s time we consider an alternative structure for our executive officials’ salaries and real, systemic reforms to how the Legislature operates. If we’re not willing to have that discussion, than essentially we’re just kicking the can down the road.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Twitter: jimfossel


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