AUGUSTA, Maine — Despite hard economic times that threaten deep cuts in state programs and services, Maine legislators are getting cost-of-living pay increases for their work this year.
A law that has been in effect for years says increases in the Consumer Price Index must be applied every December. The 3.7 percent rise calculated last month gives newly elected lawmakers $13,526 for this year’s session.
That’s still far less than legislators get in other states. Massachusetts lawmakers are due to receive a 5.5 percent pay hike, lifting their base pay to $61,440. In Maine, the law bars increases of over 5 percent.
New Hampshire, on the other hand, pays $200 per two-year term, putting it with Maine among the nation’s lower–paid legislatures.
It’s very likely Maine lawmakers’ pay for 2009 will remain unchanged through this year’s session, which is scheduled to end in June. There’s no provision in a budget revision package under review by lawmakers to cancel the pay increases, although the Legislature did agree to give up $1.6 million in other expenses.
But leaders of both the House and Senate say cost-of-living increases will be on the table when a new state budget is adopted for fiscal 2010-11, which begins July 1. Gov. John Baldacci on Friday is to present his two-year budget proposal, which is expected to call for reductions in state spending due to declining revenues and rising costs.
“Everything is on the table,” House Speaker Hannah Pingree, D-North Haven, said Thursday. A spokesman for Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell, D-Vassalboro, agreed.
“Given the budget situation, everything is going to be looked at,” said spokesman David Loughran.
Pingree said she would work with Mitchell to find “much larger savings” in the legislative budget than the cost-of-living hikes yield. If the Legislature decided to forgo next year’s anticipated COLAs, total savings would amount to about $40,000, said Pingree.
“The reality is that Maine legislators are paid so little, the savings are not that significant,” Pingree said. “People clearly don’t do this for the money.”
The first year of a two-year session usually lasts six months, so lawmakers are paid more than during the second year, when sessions generally run four months.
During the 2007-08 session, they received $12,713 for the first year and $9,316 the second, for a total of $22,029.