AUGUSTA, Maine — Sponsors of three bills to reduce the size of the Maine Legislature said Monday it was time for them and their colleagues to do more with less, just as they are asking others to do.
Republicans and Democrats supporting the measures said that while 11 states have smaller populations, Maine has the nation’s 10th-largest lawmaking body with 186 representatives and senators. They said reducing the size of the Legislature would save the state money and act as a symbolic gesture during a time of budget cuts.
“We live in a world where we’re all being asked to do more with less,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, who serves on the Appropriations Committee. “Let’s not kid ourselves. We don’t need the sixth-largest House in the United States.”
Maine’s Senate is the 16th-largest, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A bill reviewed Monday by the State and Local Government Committee would eliminate 62 House and Senate seats; another measure would reduce the size of the House by 20 seats to 131 members; the third proposal, which is seen as a door-opener to a full-time Legislature, would lop 68 seats from the two bodies and extend the length of legislative sessions.
All three bills call for constitutional amendments that would require two-thirds legislative majorities and a popular vote. Each bill has a different savings estimate. If voters ultimately approve a constitutional amendment to reduce the size of the Legislature, the change would take effect in 2015.
Opponents said Maine would be better off taking a cue from neighboring New Hampshire, which boasts the nation’s largest state legislature at 424 members, and third-largest in the English-speaking world. Reducing the Maine Legislature in effect consolidates more power in the hands of fewer elected officials and weakens the voice of the public, said longtime Maine tax activist Mary Adams.
Rep. Lance Harvell, a Farmington Republican and one of the sponsors, said Maine’s present configuration was adopted in an age when lawmakers traveled on horseback and constituents’ access was more limited. Katz said Abraham Lincoln was still just a lawyer and baseball hadn’t been invented.
Now, with instant communications and improved transportation, legislators can communicate more quickly and efficiently than was previously thought possible, supporters said.
Rep. Michael Carey, D-Lewiston, whose bill would lengthen the term of the session, estimates the measure would save $2.5 million over a two-year session. Also, Carey said, his bill would allow more Mainers the opportunity to serve in the House because it would remove limiting service to retirees, independent business owners and others who can afford to work for little pay during the legislative session.
Opponents don’t see the bill gaining traction in a year when lawmakers are dealing with more pressing issues such as passing a $6.1 billion state budget and overhauling taxes and welfare.
Tax activist Adams warned the bills “move us toward a permanent political class in Maine, which we do not want.” She said New Hampshire is a worthy model, where the 424 lawmakers make $100 a year “and don’t stick around to gin up trouble for taxpayers.”
Others said reducing the legislative ranks would make it easy for lobbyists to gain more clout because they would have fewer members to win over.
The bills are LDs 153, 669 and 40.