Editor’s note: Park officials said Saturday that Acadia plans to stay open through Sunday, Oct. 1 if the federal government shuts down.
Maine’s governor has been woefully underpaid for years. Maine lawmakers aren’t compensated enough either. In both cases, this potentially shrinks the pool of people willing to give their time and energy to public service amid a long list of other personal and financial commitments.
For years, we have been calling on the Legislature to improve this imbalanced compensation situation — particularly for the governor. And for years, they have declined to do so. We get it — the political optics of giving themselves or other officials’ a raise might not be great. But those optics aside, these changes need to happen after years of stagnation.
So it is good to see that lawmakers are close to finally increasing the salary for future governors and future members of the Legislature. A bipartisan bill to raise the governor’s salary to $125,000 (up from a national worst of $70,000) beginning with whoever follows Gov. Janet Mills in that office looks on track to pass at the end of the current sprawling special session, along with a bill to bump legislators’ two-year total from $25,000 to $45,000.
The bill to raise the gubernatorial salary is a bipartisan compromise led by Rep. Bill Bridgeo, a Democrat from Augusta, and Rep. Sawin Millett, a Republican from Waterford.
“I think this is an adjustment that is long overdue,” Millett said in a recent budget panel hearing.
Bridgeo explained to the state and local government committee this spring how the two lawmakers came together to produce the compromise bill.
“For all the years that I have taught state and local politics at the University of Maine at Augusta as an adjunct faculty member, I have struggled to explain to my students why Maine pays its governor dramatically less than the other 49 states and the various territories the U.S. oversees,” Bridgeo said in his April testimony.
We, too, have struggled for years to explain this relatively meager compensation for Maine’s top executive. And we haven’t been alone. A 2019 state compensation commission described the governor’s salary as “embarrassingly low” and explained how legislative pay has not kept up with inflation. Former Gov. Paul LePage was rightfully outspoken about the need to increase the gubernatorial salary (for future governors, not for himself at the time), which last happened in 1987.
“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 2018. “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.”
LePage’s argument was convincing then and remains convincing today. Lawmakers should finally listen and make this much-needed adjustment.
The bill to raise legislative salaries, proposed by Republican Rep. David Woodsome of North Waterboro, also deserves passage. It obviously carries a larger price tag than the gubernatorial salary bill, with an annual cost of nearly $1.7 million starting at the end of 2024. But this is a worthwhile investment to try to make sure that legislative service is workable even for those who don’t have lots of resources or free time. After more than two decades without a raise for lawmakers, they’re overdue.
Neither of these updates should be seen as lawmakers rewarding themselves or other officials for their public service. Instead, this is about making sure that public service is accessible and financially feasible to more Mainers. The Legislature should reflect the public it serves, and by making that service more viable for working Mainers, this pay raise can help.
We’ve been talking about these salary updates long enough. Show them the money.