The recent debate over constitutional officers’ salaries could have ended badly at a sensitive time: the start of a legislative session when Democrats and Republicans need to build relationships, not put up walls.
But legislative leaders averted a disaster and made the best choice: They voted unanimously to set salaries for the incoming secretary of state, attorney general and House clerk at the lowest rate. There had been a question about whether the three officers, who have previous experience in these posts, should resume work at the pay level they were earning two years ago.
Though they used to earn higher wages, the officers will still be compensated reasonably. Incoming Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap will earn a total salary of $72,727, which includes a 5-percent premium in lieu of retirement contributions. Attorney General Janet Mills will earn $96,860.
State law allows the Legislative Council to set the incoming House clerk’s salary at $83,533, but returning House Clerk Millicent MacFarland — who had more than 30 years experience when she left the position in January 2011, when she earned about $116,000 — will receive no more than $700 per week, as she is earning a pension as a retiree.
It’s understandable that Democrats questioned what salaries to pay since there was no precedent for constitutional officers with a break in service. But considering the economic situation in Maine, not to mention the potential political fallout, agreeing to the lower rate was fair.
The state is preparing for a spending curtailment and projected revenue shortfalls. It wouldn’t have been appropriate for Democrats to push higher pay. If the officers didn’t like the lower rate, they didn’t have to take the job. Now that debate about salaries for constitutional officers is over, Democrats and Republicans can work on solving more substantive problems.