The governor of Maine is underpaid and Gov. Paul LePage is right to want to raise the salary. No one should want to run for governor for the pay, but having the lowest paid chief executive in the country is not a point of pride for Maine.

At the same time, raising meals and lodging compensation for legislators, which the governor-backed bill does, makes sense as well.

“The governor of the State of Maine is the chief executive of our state, and the compensation for the office should be competitive to attract the best talent,” LePage said in a press release last week.

“Maine deserves a governor with executive leadership experience who is in the prime of their career. Leaders who would make excellent governors have told me they won’t consider running because of the pay cut. Competitive compensation is good public policy.”

As LePage said, the governor oversees a complex operation with numerous departments and thousands of employees. Many state employees, including department heads, earn much more than the governor. In 2015, LePage raised the salaries for commissioners to about nearly $128,000, the salary of the executive director of the Legislature. Previously, commissioner salaries ranged from about $104,000 at the Department of Administrative and Financial Services to more than $118,000 at the Department of Health and Human Services. The raises were controversial because they came as LePage and many other Republicans were criticizing state employees and had reduced their benefits to pay for tax cuts.

But, LePage’s point about competitive compensation being necessary to recruit qualified and talented people to state government is a good one.

Public sector jobs require more education than comparable private sector positions, but typically pay less, according to a study commissioned by the National Institute on Retirement Security and the Center for State and Local Government Excellence. And, the pay gap has grown over the last two decades.

In Maine, the governor’s salary is set by state law at $70,000 a year. The governor also gets an unaudited expense account of $35,000 a year, so the annual compensation is really $105,000. This is still low, even considering the free room, board and transportation. Maine’s statutory salary of $70,000 is the lowest in the country. If it is adjusted to $105,000, Maine would be tied with Wyoming and Nebraska for the seventh lowest compensation in the country. The average governor’s salary is about $137,000. The highest is nearly $191,000 in Pennsylvania.

LePage has again proposed that the governor’s salary be increased to $150,000 a year. The increase would take effect in 2019, after he has left office.

This may not be the right number for Maine, but an increase to the governor’s salary is certainly overdue and should be given serious consideration by lawmakers.

The $70,000 salary was set in 1987, when it was doubled from the previous $35,000 a year. In 1987, the median household income in Maine was $23,600. It is now about $51,000 or 2.15 times higher. BDN columnist Michael Cianchette used these figures to show that if the 1987 governor’s salary grew at the same rate as Maine’s household income (which has grown slowly, by the way), the governor’s salary today would be $150,500, nearly the same amount that LePage is proposing. “Not so crazy,” Cianchette wrote last week.

Selling this math to the Legislature is no easy feat. It has rejected LePage’s past attempts to raise the governor’s salary. But, as the numbers show, an upward adjustment is justified.

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