LePage rejects bill removing his ability to sign off on AG staff pay

Posted June 04, 2013, at 6:23 p.m.
Janet Mills
John Clarke Russ | BDN
Janet Mills

AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage handed down another veto Tuesday, rejecting a bill that would allow the attorney general to set her staff members’ pay without the governor’s approval.

The bill, LD 1025, would eliminate the requirement that the governor approve salaries set for assistant attorneys general and staff attorneys in the attorney general’s office as long as their aggregate pay didn’t require additional funding from the Legislature.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Linda Valentino, D-Saco, on behalf of Attorney General Janet Mills, also a Democrat. The Senate accepted the measure unanimously while the House passed it following a 78-59 roll call vote.

During a public hearing in April, Mills said the requirement that the governor approve her staff members’ salaries violates her office’s independence.

“My office is subject to the same restraints on budgeting to which all other departments are subject,” she said, according to her written testimony. “The governor submits a budget to the Legislature and the Legislature reviews it and approves it or amends it as it sees fit. This bill would allow the attorney general to run the office within the financial constraints the Legislature sets in a manner the attorney general sees fit.”

In his veto message, LePage wrote that the requirement that he sign off on staff members’ salaries, which dates back to 1919, is a necessary check within government. The responsibility rightly belongs to the governor because the chief executive is responsible for proposing a balanced budget, he said.

“I am unaware of any issues that may have arisen making this change necessary,” LePage said. “The authority to set or approve the salaries of staff throughout state government gives the governor — whoever may be in office at the time — the opportunity to slow down expenses when times are lean.”

Tuesday’s veto doesn’t mark the first time this legislative session that the Republican LePage has been at odds with Mills, who took office in January after being elected by the Democratic Legislature. LePage’s original proposal for a new two-year budget set aside $1.3 million for legal defense for the state in case the attorney general declined to represent the LePage administration. Some $300,000 of that sum would have come directly from Mills’ office budget, and she raised questions about its legality.

Lawmakers have removed both proposals from the budget.

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