A common saying among Maine lawmakers is that calculating their compensation as an hourly wage would reveal that they receive a pittance — but they usually follow that up quickly with, “but I’m not in it for the money.”
There is no question that most lawmakers devote considerable hours and attention to the Legislature, especially when it is in session and that the pay they receive is not enough to support a Maine family. However, when allowances, reimbursements and benefits are considered, it’s not such a bad deal that lies somewhere between the extremes of what state lawmakers make in other states.
In neighboring New Hampshire, according to FiveThirtyEight, lawmakers make $100 per year and are paid no per diem costs. On the other end of the spectrum is California, where legislators make close to $100,000 per year with a slate of benefits. In 2014, according to FiveThirtyEight, the median annual base pay for lawmakers in the United States was about $20,833.
Salary is only part of what taxpayers pay for each of the 186 elected members of the Maine Legislature. Here’s a breakdown:
First regular session: $14,272.35
Second regular session: $10,157.52
Legislative sessions generally run for about six months of the first year and four months of the second year. Salaries are adjusted every summer to reflect changes in the national consumer price index, limited at 3 percent per year. In the event a special session convenes, lawmakers receive $100 per day on top of their regular salary. When the Legislature is not in session, legislators who attend legislative committee meetings receive per diem payments of $55 per day. Salary is paid biweekly and equals $24,429.87 for the two-year biennium.
Meals and lodging
During legislative sessions, most lawmakers are reimbursed $70 per day: $32 for meals and $38 for lodging. Those who do not use lodging can opt to be reimbursed for mileage at 44 cents per mile up to a maximum of $38 per day, with the following exception: Those whose mileage tallies more than $38 per day are reimbursed fully for one round trip per week. As an example, a lawmaker who lives 100 miles from Augusta and spends three nights in a hotel would be reimbursed $202 for that week. Considering the Legislature is in session for about 10 months of every two-year session, that equals roughly $8,080 per session, though actual costs for lodging for many lawmakers are undoubtedly higher.
“We should not expect legislators who travel great distances to Augusta to represent their communities to have to dig into their own pockets to cover the costs of staying overnight,” LePage said in a written statement.
Between legislative sessions, lawmakers are reimbursed for the actual cost of lodging plus $32 per day for meals. Mileage is full reimbursed at 44 cents per mile, as are tolls.
There are no limits on travel outside Maine, except that the presiding officers must approve the expense of the trip in advance.
The rules about how this money is used are loose, but it is intended to fund services such as mailings and travel within a lawmaker’s district.
Senators receive a $2,000 allowance for each legislative session, $1,300 of which is paid at the start of each regular session in January and $700 of which is paid after final adjournment in the second year. Given that the money is an allowance, it is paid to lawmakers whether they use it all or not.
Representatives receive $1,500 a year for constituent services, $1,005 in the first payment and $495 in the second.
Newly elected lawmakers pay 5 percent of their insurance premiums, equaling $42.76 per month, and half of the premium for family members. For an individual, that means the overall value of the health insurance policy is about $855 per month, of which the state pays about $812. In the course of a year, that equals a cost to taxpayers of $9,744, or $19,488 for a two-year legislative session. The premium paid for health insurance by a lawmaker for his or spouse and their children is $616.94 per month.
However, some lawmakers receive free health benefits. Returning lawmakers who complete the requirements of the Health Credit Premium Program, which tracks health risk assessment factors and requires training about stress relief, have their entire individual premiums paid by the state. This is the same plan that state employees receive. Lawmakers also have prescription drug coverage and can obtain a 90-day prescription for a $15 copayment for generic drugs and a $45 copay for brand-name drugs.
Diverse plans are offered. Lawmakers’ plans are fully covered by the state, but they must pay the premiums for dependents. The monthly premium for one dependent is $20.68. Using that number, the cost to the state for a lawmaker’s dental insurance premium is $248.16 per year, or $496.32 for a two-year session. Copay amounts depend on the plan chosen.
In addition to access to state-owned gyms in Augusta and Bangor, lawmakers are eligible for reimbursements of up to $40 per month for private gym memberships. That equals up to $960 during a two-year term.
Lawmakers are entitled to retirement pay according to their length of service and are generally required to participate. They pay 7.65 percent of their earnings to the Maine Public Employees Retirement System — but like state employees do not pay into the Social Security system. The state pays a sum equal to an additional 10.54 percent of the lawmaker’s pay on behalf of the employee. That equals about $2,575 for a two-year session based on a lawmaker’s salary alone.
Lawmakers can also receive vision insurance (at an individual cost of $4.38 per month), participate in voluntary retirement savings programs, elect to participate in flexible spending accounts for health care costs, enroll in group life insurance (at a cost of $8.19 per month for each $1,000 of coverage) and open free accounts at a Maine State Credit Union. Because these benefits are optional, there is no cost to the taxpayers.
Just like any employer, the state must pay a sum equal to 1.45 percent of lawmaker salaries for Medicare. That equals about $354 per lawmaker per two-year session.
Using the figures above, a rookie senator with health and dental insurance who lives 100 miles from Augusta and is reimbursed for a gym membership costs the state about $58,382 for a two-year term and a first-year representative costs $57,382. Those figures do not include the cost of special sessions, which overall cost about $23,300 for the first day and $17,750 for each additional day, or committee work between regular sessions.
Rounding and other payroll vagaries make these figures inexact, but they give Mainers a good picture of legislators’ compensation.
So not counting the cost of legislative staff or any other expenses associated with running the Legislature, the members of the House of Representatives cost Maine approximately $8,740,182 and senators cost roughly $2,043,412.
Every two years, that’s a grand total of about $10,783,594 that Maine pays for its part-time lawmakers.
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