AUGUSTA, Maine — Some of the top managers in Gov. Paul LePage’s administration are getting a pay raise this month, as part of an effort that the governor says is designed to maintain what he refers to as pay parity with top legislative staffers.
The 12 cabinet members will now make nearly $128,000 per year, after receiving raises of between 7 and 23 percent.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders say LePage should extend his generosity to the thousands of Maine state employees that report to those same department heads. In a state with an average median income of around $42,000, $128,000 is a pretty good salary.
But the governor’s staff points out that such paychecks are not out of line when compared with some New England states, and still far lower than some others. As first reported in the Portland Press Herald, the raises handed out by the governor were more generous to some commissioners than others.
Health and Human Services Commissioner Mary Mayhew, who was already earning $118,000, got a raise of more than $9,000, while Richard Rosen, the governor’s commissioner of finance, saw his $103,000 salary increase by more than $24,000.
And while the LePage administration argues that it’s just keeping pace with some legislative staff salaries that have surpassed $120,000, some Democrats, including Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, are taking issue.
“People just can’t understand this,” McCabe said. “You know, this is a governor who claims to be for smaller government, and he just gave raises that puts Maine on top as far as salary for folks doing positions where in states similar to Maine they’re making much less.”
In neighboring New Hampshire, which is similar in population to Maine, the DHHS commissioner earns nearly $124,000 and the Department of Public Safety commissioner earns just over $121,000. Other Granite State commissioners are just breaking $100,000. Vermont’s commissioners earn from $98,000 to $123,000, while Massachusetts state agencies commissioners’ salaries range from $135,000 to $227,000.
Still, McCabe said he can’t understand how the governor rationalizes a 23 percent pay hike for a cabinet member. And while the governor has chosen to make legislative staff salaries an issue, McCabe said those salaries can be justified.
“For us in the Legislature, when we’re doing salary or when we’re doing increases in raises and things, it’s usually based on experience, years of service,” he said, “so the fact is that these are people who are coming to work in state government,” McCabe said. “There is also quite an expensive benefit package for these commissioners.”
The governor’s communications office says the salaries for members of the LePage cabinet are competitive and that, in some cases, commissioners such as Mayhew oversee an array of services that are routinely divided between two cabinet posts in other states.
This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.