AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage has pulled the state out of membership in the National Governors Association because he says Maine is not getting enough benefits for its $60,000-a-year membership fee. He is also urging other state officials to review whether they are getting value from the various national groups and associations for which they are using taxpayer funds to pay for membership.
“It’s too expensive for what we get out of it, it’s 60 grand a year,” he said in an interview. “I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”
LePage said he has instructed his commissioners to review whether they have benefited from the NGA membership and assess whether any national association they belong to provides value for the expenditure of tax dollars.
“This is what zero-based budgeting is all about,” he said. “This is what all the commissioners are doing and I have told them if they are getting value then I will consider keeping it in the biennial budget.”
LePage said he will attend the winter meeting, held in Washington, D.C., because of its sessions with President Barack Obama and cabinet members. But he said he has no use for the other meetings held by the group.
“I get no value out of those meetings,” he said. “They are too politically correct and everybody is lovey-dovey and no decisions are ever made. There are some tough decisions that need to be made in this country and we need to start making them.”
Jodi Omear, director of communications for the NGA, said in an email that LePage is still considered a member of the organization even if the state has stopped paying dues. She said all the governors of the 50 states and five territories are members, even if they do not pay dues.
She declined to reveal what each state and territory are paying for dues, but said that the dues range from a low of approximately $22,000 to about $176,000 a year. She also declined to identify which other states or territories are not paying dues.
“Almost all states pay the full amount of dues every year, and those that do receive additional services, such as technical assistance from NGA staff, grants from the federal government and foundations that are managed by NGA and policy academies that share best practices among states where travel and attendance of state employees are funded by NGA,” she wrote.
Omear said states get more value from membership than what they pay in dues. She said NGA provides many services to the states that are valuable as they deal with many similar issues.
Maine Sen. Kevin Raye, R-Perry, is the chairman of the Legislative Council, the group that sets the Legislature’s budget. He said when the current two-year budget was drafted, the council decided to cut the amount of dues to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Governments by 10 percent.
“They are both very valuable but we felt we had to reduce our budget and we did,” Raye said. “I think reviewing membership in these national groups is a good idea.”
Rep. Emily Cain, D-Orono, the Maine House Minority Leader, also serves on the Council. She agrees a regular review of membership in national groups is warranted.
“You should always be asking, ‘am I getting something out of this that benefits the people of Maine and the state of Maine?’” she said.
The state is paying the NCSL $114,000 a year in dues and pays the CSG $83,500 a year.
The judicial branch of state government is a member of the National Center for State Courts and paid dues of $93,847 this year. Chief Justice Leigh Saufley said the center has been invaluable to the state courts as they grapple with a wide range of issues that other states also are grappling with.
“We actually looked at this very seriously several years ago,” she said. “Everything in our budget has been scrutinized to make sure we are actually getting very serious value for the dollar.”
Saufley said that an example of the help the state gets is that the center just recently provided a technical expert to help keep the aging computer system operating.