AUGUSTA, Maine — Roughly 100 attorneys working for the state have been waiting nearly two months to receive substantial raises approved by the Legislature but held up by Gov. Paul LePage.
The Legislature approved 4 percent raises for every district attorney, assistant district attorney and assistant attorney general in the state, effective July 1. So far, the roughly 85 district attorneys and assistant district attorneys have received their pay bump, but the assistant attorneys general have not.
The assistant attorneys general also have not received the 1 percent cost-of-living wage increases approved for all state employees a year and a half ago, said Attorney General Janet Mills.
“This certainly seems political,” said Mills, a Democrat, noting the strained relationship between herself and LePage, a Republican waging a tough re-election fight.
The average salary for an assistant attorney general is about $69,000, Mills said. The raises required by the supplemental budget — approved by the Legislature over LePage’s veto — would not affect Mills’ annual earnings.
Mills said the financial order that would green-light the raises was not the only one sitting on LePage’s desk. She also was awaiting his signature so she could hire a paralegal for the Medicaid Fraud Unit, funded entirely with federal dollars, and fill other vacancies.
Meanwhile, the governor signed financial orders in late June that gave raises to more than 50 members of his executive staff, including members of the Cabinet, many of whom earn more than $80,000 per year.
During a meeting of the Appropriations Committee on Tuesday, Senate Chairwoman Dawn Hill, D-York, said she wasn’t upset that LePage had given raises to his employees because the supplemental budget allowed for them.
It was the fact that he gave allowed raises to his staff but not required raises to the assistant attorneys general that irked Hill.
“When others have all received it, it seems like a negative statement that this group doesn’t,” she said. “We approved it, the money is available, and there’s a [budget] surplus. So why isn’t this group getting what they deserve?”
Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s press secretary, said Tuesday that the governor had not signed any financial orders that directed money to the attorney general’s office since the end of the last fiscal year in June. She said the governor was concerned because the AG’s office had a $255,000 shortfall at the end of the fiscal year.
“There’s some concern there, about how that budget is being handled,” Bennett said. “The governor, being fiscally responsible and prudent with the budget, had some concerns and has not signed a financial order since that time.”
The Office of the Attorney General had required additional funding to fill vacancies in several district attorneys’ offices, Mills said, but she vociferously denied that there had been any shortfall.
State budgets often anticipate that open positions will remain vacant for a certain period of time, she said, but the district attorneys couldn’t staff all the cases on their dockets without filling positions. When that happens, she said, there’s a state salary plan in place that allow for funds to be allocated from other departments that have unanticipated vacancies.
“If [LePage] wants us to keep those positions vacant for six months to achieve the attrition rate, then I guess we could,” Mill said. “But there was no shortfall. …. We’re the only agency in state government to not get the cost-of-living increase that was agreed upon a year and a half ago. This is political manipulation.”
The governor regularly accuses Mills of working against him as a political actor, rather than as the state’s top legal authority.
“Attorney General Janet Mills was appointed by the Democratic-led Legislature, and she works for them,” he said in a recent radio address.
LePage and Mills often have clashed over the governor’s agenda. Most recently, LePage lashed out at Mills for ruling that he could not unilaterally prevent certain undocumented aliens from receiving General Assistance, and that such a policy change would violate the Constitution.
LePage also challenged Mills to “sue me” earlier this year when she penned a note urging him to release public documents he had been withholding from reporters for weeks, lest he be found in violation of the state’s public access law.
Mills said Tuesday that it was not strange for an attorney general and a governor to disagree, but it was unusual for a governor to withhold money that had been allocated by the Legislature.
“It affects the morale of those out there day in and day out, in the courts of this state, protecting the public interest, protecting families and children, prosecuting crime and putting people in jail for breaking the law,” she said. “This demeans people, and it’s a rather mean-spirited thing to do.”
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.