Once again, a panel has recommended that the compensation for Maine’s governor, legislators and judges be raised. Yet again the suggestion is likely to be ignored because lawmakers don’t want to be seen as giving themselves, or their political allies, a raise. That is the wrong attitude.
The salary for Maine’s chief executive — $70,000 a year — is the lowest in the country. Even factoring in the no-strings-attached $30,000 annual stipend the governor also receives, this pay does not come close to adequately compensating the person who occupies the Blaine House.
Of course, no one should run for governor, or the Legislature, for the money. But, adequately compensating those who do can attract a larger pool of potential representatives, which will better serve all of Maine.
In a report issued last week, the group called for significant increases in many state salaries. It suggests that the governor’s salary be nearly doubled to $130,000 a year by 2022. The compensation for Maine’s governor has not been increased since 1987. If the $70,000 a year salary set then were to be adjusted for inflation, the governor would now be paid nearly $162,000 annually.
“The Commission finds that the Maine Governor’s salary is embarrassingly low, suggesting a disrespect for the position and making Maine an outlier from the rest of the country,” it said in the report.
Its recommended salary of $130,000 a year would move Maine’s compensation from the cellar to the 35th highest in the country. This is in line with Maine’s annual household income, which is also 35th in the country. The group also suggests increasing the governor’s stipend, which hasn’t been raised since 1990, to $40,000 a year.
It also called for an increase in compensation for members of the Legislature to $32,000 for each two-year session. This would be up from the nearly $25,500 legislators currently make over the two years — $14,862.48 for the first legislative session, which typically lasts 6 months, and $10,581.92 for the second, which runs for about four months. Mileage and lodging reimbursement would also be raised under the commission’s proposal.
This suggested increase, which is likely to be controversial, would still leave legislative compensation well below the median average annual salary in Maine. While it’s true that Maine has a part-time Legislature, it is hard for those who are not retired, self employed or working for a non-profit to commit to service in the State House. Raising compensation isn’t the only solution. To increase the diversity of its membership, serious consideration should be given to reducing the length of the legislative session.
Finally, the commission calls for raises for Maine judges, who are among the lowest paid in the country.
“The Commission is concerned that current judicial compensation may threaten the continued ability to attract and retain the highly qualified and dedicated jurists that Maine now enjoys,” the commission said in its report.
“There also is evidence that the low compensation received by judges and justices has led some to leave the bench, with several individuals recently choosing to leave earlier than planned,” it added.
We should all want highly qualified people to serve us — in the Blaine House, Legislature and judiciary. Adequately compensating them is long overdue.