AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine’s attorney general and secretary of state received raises from legislative leaders Wednesday — just hours after being re-elected to their positions — widening the gap between their paychecks and the governor’s.
The raises illuminate a debate over the chief executive’s pay that dates back decades but hasn’t resulted in any changes in 27 years.
Maine’s governor, according to statute, makes $70,000 a year and is not eligible for the step increases that the new Legislative Council — a group made up of 10 legislative leaders — unanimously approved late Wednesday night for two of the state’s three constitutional officers, as well as the sole statutory officer. That’s the lowest salary of any governor in the country, though Republican Gov. Paul LePage has no hope of a pay bump due to a clause in the Maine Constitution preventing any governor’s compensation to be changed while he is in office.
The salaries of the three constitutional officers and the state auditor are as follows, according to the Department of Administrative and Financial Services:
— Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, now ending his fourth non-consecutive term in the position, will make $77,792 a year beginning on Jan. 1, up from his current salary of $74,194.
— State Auditor Pola Buckley, who as the state’s only statutory officer serves four-year terms and isn’t up for re-election for another two years, was given a raise from $87,256 a year to $91,250.
— Attorney General Janet Mills, now entering her third two-year term in the position, will be paid $103,750 a year as of Jan. 1, up from her current salary of $98,717.
— Incoming State Treasurer Terry Hayes’ starting salary will be $70,658, which is lower than outgoing Treasurer Neria Douglass’ salary of $74,194.
Those figures include a 5 percent salary premium because the state does not make retirement contributions for constitutional officers. It means that LePage’s salary is lower than any of the state’s other top elected officials.
In 2010, LePage told a reporter that he took a 70 percent pay cut to become governor from his previous job as CEO of the Marden’s retail chain. He has long argued that pay ranges for the state’s Cabinet-level executives are too low and have prevented him in some cases from hiring his top choices, though for the most part he has not complained publicly about his own pay. His staff, however, didn’t hesitate to criticize LePage’s salary.
“Compared to the tremendous amount of work the governor performs every single day, all year long — nights and weekends included — the governor’s pay is wildly out of sync with the much better pay and much lower workload of the constitutional officers,” wrote LePage spokesman Peter Steele in response to questions from the BDN.
Steele said LePage “did not take this job for the pay,” but he supports increasing the pay for the governor’s office.
“He is supportive of raising the pay for governors, even though he would not get it himself, because he strongly believes that benefits and pay throughout the executive branch should be on par with the legislative branch and should be competitive compared to other states,” wrote Steele.
A 2013 analysis by USA Today found that governors’ salaries range from Maine’s $70,000 to $187,000 in Pennsylvania. It also found that Pennsylvania, Nevada, Vermont and Washington were the only states where the governors are the highest-paid administrators. On the other hand, governors in a handful of states refuse to take any compensation at all.
There have been several attempts over the years to increase the governor’s salary, but it hasn’t been raised since 1987 when it was doubled to the current level.
In 2002, independent Gov. Angus King proposed raising the governor’s salary to $123,500 a year — a number that was later amended to $101,000 a year — but the measure failed handily in the House and Senate.
“It almost seems punitive,” King said at the time. “Do we really want to get to the point where only the wealthy can run for governor?”
In 2006, then-Rep. Gary Moore, a Republican from Standish, proposed a bill to make the state’s governor the highest-paid state employee by 10 percent, which would have jacked the chief executive’s salary to $220,000. That bill found little support in the Legislature or from then-Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat.
Some argued that the $70,000 salary represents a fraction of the governor’s overall compensation, which includes a taxpayer-funded car and driver, residence at the Blaine House including food and a chef and other perks.
Legislative leaders said in response to queries from the BDN this week that they were aware of no new initiative to increase the governor’s salary.