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With pay frozen, Maine state troopers tell lawmakers they rely on road kill to feed families, can’t afford heating oil

Posted Feb. 11, 2014, at 8:02 a.m.
Last modified Feb. 11, 2014, at 1:11 p.m.

Poll Question

Trooper Jon Brown of the Maine State Police
Photo courtesy Maine Department of Public Safety
Trooper Jon Brown of the Maine State Police

AUGUSTA, Maine — A pair of Maine State Police troopers were among dozens of state workers who told the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee on Monday that the decision to freeze state merit and longevity pay in 2013 is taking a toll on their family finances.

The two were testifying in support of a bill, LD 1639, that aims to restore about $6 million, over the current two-year budget cycle, to the state’s general and transportation funds for the purpose of merit and longevity pay increases.

Neither trooper was on duty during his testimony.

One of the troopers said he has even resorted to collecting road kill to help feed his family of six, while another said that just last week his children awoke to a cold house twice because they were unable to afford enough oil for their furnace.

“During the winter seasons, we often have to buy heating oil a few gallons at a time, because we rarely can afford the minimal delivery amount,” Trooper Elgin Physic, of Lewiston, told the committee. “Due to the merit stoppage, this year, I had to sell my wife’s engagement ring, military souvenirs from the war and other personal items just to make ends.”

Physic said state employees most hurt by the wage freeze are those just starting their careers and those who, like him, took state jobs just before merit and longevity wage freezes were implemented.

“We have young families to support, but are making significantly less than our peers,” Physic wrote in testimony presented to the committee Monday.

Both troopers said their financial situations were a result of merit and longevity pay-increases that were put on hold in the previous budget cycle as a means to solve the state’s revenue shortfall.

Physic and Trooper Jon Brown, both military veterans, said they joined the state police out of a sense of duty to Maine and the public but, soon after joining, their pay was frozen.

A review of the state’s open records website, Maine Open Checkbook, showed Physic was paid $42,712 in pre-tax wages in 2012. Brown was paid just more than $37,000 in pre-tax wages in 2012. State employee compensation amounts for 2013 have not yet been loaded into the state’s public database.

Brown said his family depends on the state’s Medicaid program, MaineCare, for health insurance and that they have also been enrolled in the state’s food stamp program. Brown said he is also a hunter and uses the game he shoots to help feed his family, including six children.

“I am a hunter because the meat I hunt is necessary to feed my family,” Brown said. “I do not hesitate to collect a deer carcass from the roadway; this is necessary to provide for my family.”

Brown said he had also re-enlisted in the military after being out for 15 years, explaining that he did so “not because I want to again divide my time or deploy to a hostile area of the world, it is necessary to provide support to my family.”

Both Physic and Brown said they felt the agreement they made with the state was in good faith, based on a schedule of regular pay raises and affordable health benefits.

“When I was recruited, I was not promised that the budget would be balanced on my back,” Brown said.

State Sen. Emily Cain, D-Orono, a committee member, said the testimony from state workers was, “simply heart wrenching.”

Cain said the testimony Monday highlighted the depth of the impact of the raise freezes across state government.

“Every single one of these individuals goes to work every day and does their very best and have not had any type of pay increase or even acknowledgement of how long they’ve been doing their job for five years,” Cain said. “When you hear from state workers who are working at least 40 hours a week and these are the same people who are qualifying for public assistance, that is simply not OK — it’s wrong.”

There was no testimony in opposition to the measure Monday and the committee will likely consider the bill during a work session in the days ahead, although a date has not been set.

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