Maine’s salary for governor is the lowest in the country. This is not something to be proud of.
Yet again, there is a bill to raise the chief executive’s salary — along with that of state lawmakers. This year, LD 1328, would raise the governor’s salary to $125,000 annually beginning with the election of a new governor.
Yet again, it is likely to be rejected by the Maine Legislature.
This is unfortunate because there are good reasons for raising these salaries.
By law, the governor’s salary is set at $70,000 a year. That’s the lowest in the country and it hasn’t increased since 1987.
The governor also gets an annual unaudited expense account of $35,000 a year, so the annual compensation is really $105,000. But this is still low, even considering the free room, board and transportation that comes with the job. If the compensation is adjusted to $105,000, Maine would be tied with Wyoming and Nebraska for the 6th lowest gubernatorial compensation in the country. The highest in 2017 was $195,800 in California.
No one should want to run for office for the pay, but their salaries should be more in line with the challenging tasks they are expected to do.
“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,” former Gov. Paul LePage said last year as he pushed unsuccessfully for a salary increase for his successors.
He was right.
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.
Opponents of raising the salary for the governor and lawmakers point to low average wages in some of the state’s poorest counties. This is the wrong measure. We do need to work to raise these wages so that residents of these counties can prosper, not merely get by. But our governor’s salary should be commensurate with the qualifications and demands of the job. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Raising salaries for lawmakers is an even harder sell. Maine has a part-time Legislature — although in recent years, the amount of time they have spent in Augusta has stretched longer and longer. The intent of a part-time Legislature is to ensure that lawmakers are — and represent — average people. Given the long hours, often long commutes and low pay, Maine’s Legislature is made up, largely, of retirees, people who are self employed or work for non-profits. This is not a true representation of Maine.
Raising legislator salaries would help draw a broader cross section of Mainers to serve in Augusta, but paring back the time commitment could be an even bigger incentive.
It is hard to compare legislative salaries from around the country because different states have different time commitments and some states pay by the day, but Maine’s salaries are relatively low for states with part-time Legislatures.
During the first session of the two-year Legislature, which is supposed to run from early December to mid-June, lawmakers are paid $14,862. The shorter second session is slated by law to run from January to April and lawmakers are paid $10,000. In recent years, sessions have been extended and lawmakers have met in special sessions.
LD 1328, sponsored by Sen. Mike Carpenter of Aroostook County, would raise the salaries to $20,000 and $15,000 for the two sessions.
More important — and perhaps more palatable to lawmakers — the bill would also raise the per diems that lawmakers get for traveling to and staying in Augusta. Maine’s per diems are especially low among the states that offer them. Under the bill, the housing allowance would go from $38 to $60 a day, still a low number even with the discounts that lawmakers receive at many Augusta-area hotels. The daily meal allowance would be raised from $32 to $40.
The numbers in LD 1328 might not be exactly right for Maine, but increasing compensation for the governor and lawmakers is overdue and should be given serious consideration by the Legislature.