Legislature cuts among ideas to save state money

Posted Jan. 25, 2009, at 7:41 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — The way Rep. Patrick Flood sees it, if the state is asking every Mainer to do more with less, its Legislature should not be exempt.

The Winthrop Republican has introduced LD 144, a resolution that would amend Maine’s constitution to reduce the size of the Legislature as a way to save money and improve efficiency of government. Specifically, Flood wants to shrink the State House from 151 representatives to 115 and from 35 senators to 31.

The bill has been assigned to the state and local government committee, and Flood hopes it stirs up a debate in the upcoming session.

“This is not a Democrat or Republican issue,” he said recently. “It’s important to relay back to the public that we shouldn’t be immune to the same type of belt-tightening. I haven’t heard from a constituent yet that doesn’t think it’s a good idea.”

Flood also has introduced a bill that would limit the number of bills each legislator can submit each session and another that would reduce the length of each session. Again, he said, the measures would save the state money and keep lawmakers focused on the most important topics.

Flood’s proposals are just three of many bills that have been submitted so far that address changes to the state’s legislative process. Most are filed indicating they will save money, which lawmakers realize few Mainers can argue against.

Rep. George Hogan, D-Old Orchard Beach, has sponsored LD 31, an act to amend the legislative term limit laws. He still calls for eight years of maximum service in either the House or Senate, but instead of four two-year terms, Hogan has proposed two four-year terms.

Hogan said his motives are economic, pure and simple.

“With the economy the way it is, it seems like this could be an easy way to save money,” he said. “We could save around $5 million every [two-year] cycle. I hope it gets a good healthy discussion.”

A handful of other bills have been submitted that seek to increase contribution limits to House and Senate candidates, and still more offer changes to funding administered through the Maine Clean Election Act.

LD 205, sponsored by Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, would repeal the act outright. Doing so would remove limits on the amount of money legislative and gubernatorial candidates can raise, which opponents of repeal argue makes it more difficult for ordinary citizens to run for office.

Attempts to reach Cebra for comment were unsuccessful.

LD 144, LD 31 and LD 205 — as well as any bills that require changes to Maine’s Constitution — would need voter approval even if they passed in the Legislature.

Flood and Hogan know that’s an uphill battle.

“It’s always fairly difficult to pass something like this,” Hogan said. “But, ultimately, this isn’t something a committee should decide.”

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