May 21, 2018
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A Smaller Legislature

For years, there has been talk of shrinking the Maine Legislature — one of the biggest in the country based on population. This year, lawmakers have a wide range of options to chose from to turn that talk into action.

On Monday, the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee will hold a public hearing on three different proposals to reduce the size of the state House of Representatives and Senate. LD 40, sponsored by Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, would shrink the House from 151 to 131 members. LD 153, sponsored by Rep. Jon Hinck, D-Portland, would reduce the House to 101 members and the Senate from its current 35 to 23 members. LD 669, sponsored by Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, would reduce the House to 101 members and the Senate to 17.

A bill to reduce the Senate to 32 members, LD 329, was killed by the Senate last month. The most extreme proposal, LD 804, which would create a unicameral Legislature, was considered by the committee earlier this month.

Any such changes would require amending the state constitution, which would necessitate a public vote.

Proposals to shrink the Legislature won’t save a lot of money — a fiscal note attached to Rep. Hinck’s bill estimates General Fund savings at $4.9 million for fiscal years 2014 and 2015, plus an additional $1 million in savings due to lower demand for public campaign financing through the Clean Elections Act. But, it is an important step in making the Legislature more efficient. Reducing the length of the session and reducing the number of redundant bills, along with those that have no chance of passage, would also help.

Maine’s 151 representatives put the state in the top seven in terms of the size of the House. Other states with more than 150 House members, such as Georgia, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania, have much larger populations than Maine. Maine ranks 4th in the country for the fewest people per House district, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Each Maine House member represents about 8,800 people. The average is about 25,000 per district, although populous states such as California (nearly 465,000 per district) and Texas (with 168,000 per district) skew the average.

Hawaii has 51 districts for nearly 1.3 million people, with about 27,000 residents per representative. Rhode Island has 75 House seats for its 1 million residents, with each House district representing about 14,000 people.

Similar proposals have been presented to lawmakers on many occasions and all have been rejected. This year, the Legislature should do the hard work of fully considering these proposals and finding the best way to ensure Maine citizens are represented without unnecessary cost and inefficiency.

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