AUGUSTA, Maine — Assistant Democratic Senate Leader Troy Jackson wants Gov. Paul LePage to be the first governor to have to be elected to a second term to collect a state pension. The Aroostook County lawmaker says such a change is needed because the governor has cut back on pensions for state workers.
Jackson’s proposed legislation, LD 490, would amend Maine’s Constitution to require that a governor be elected to a second term before he or she could qualify for a state pension. The legislation would apply to any governor or spouse who leaves office after Jan. 1, 2012.
During a State and Local Government Committee hearing on the measure Monday, Jackson acknowledged that the bill targets LePage, who with the previous Republican-led Legislature passed state pension reforms that drew sharp opposition from state employees and retirees.
In testimony to the committee, Jackson said he wants to tighten a system in which, “someone could take the governor’s oath of office, serve one day, and then quit to receive a full pension.” But he’s asking for a constitutional amendment to affect a sitting governor, rather than seeking to apply changes in the future, because “at a time when Gov. LePage and others are asking state employees to sacrifice, even at the expense of their own pensions which were promised to them when they signed their contracts, the governor should be held to the same standard.”
After the Democrat from Allagash delivered his prepared testimony, Jackson and committee members spent a few minutes talking about fairness, with some questioning whether it’s fair to change the rules after the fact for LePage. Others questioned whether having different rules for legislators, state workers and the governor was fair.
Jackson told committee members that, by capping cost-of-living adjustments for retirees and increasing employees’ payments to the system, LePage had done the same thing to longtime state workers.
“It’s not personal against him,” Jackson told the Bangor Daily News by phone after the hearing. “It’s what he did to state employees and teachers who have no ability to make that up or change it. I categorically don’t think that’s fair. But that’s how the governor operated. He could have chosen to do that to himself last year when he did it to everyone else.”
Rep. Terry Hayes, D-Buckfield, a member of the committee, said that LePage could not have “cut anybody’s pension without help from the Legislature. This was not a single act by one individual.”
Jackson’s bill prompted sharp criticism from two legislators who testified against it Monday.
Rep. Jeffrey Evangelos, I-Friendship, criticized the bill as a political assault that will make bipartisanship in Augusta more difficult.
“The retroactive provision only affects one person and I consider it punitive,” Evangelos testified. “I think it’s grossly unfair. … I think we have better things to do with our time.”
Rep. Brian Jones, D-Freedom, also blasted the bill, characterizing it as a “personal affront” that threatens to make the State House environment more “toxic.”
“This bill is a distraction, mere political tomfoolery that will serve no purpose but to inflame unnecessarily the tensions between the Legislature and the governor,” Jones said. “This is not responsible leadership of our state.”
By phone Monday, Jackson said that Evangelos and Jones didn’t serve in the previous Legislature, so they lack a historical perspective on his proposal. He also said that because the governor’s pension of just more than $26,000 per year would exceed that of most state employees, he believes the public should have a right to vote on whether being elected twice should be the standard.
As written, the bill would require a governor to serve two full terms, but Jackson said his intent is to set being elected to two terms as a benchmark.
“Basically, what I was saying was four years and one day,” he said.
Because he wants to amend the state Constitution, Jackson’s bill would have to pass the House and Senate with two-thirds majorities, then win support from a majority of voters in a statewide referendum. He told committee members that he would not want the bill to move forward if it did not include a constitutional amendment to make the change apply to LePage.
“I am not going to live in a LePage dictatorship,” Jackson said. “I’m going to do what I think is right. I don’t think stealing people’s retirement is fair. I didn’t try to sugarcoat it in the committee.”
LePage’s spokeswoman, Adrienne Bennett, said the governor had not yet reviewed Jackson’s bill.