AUGUSTA — Roughly 100 lawyers working in the Maine Attorney General’s Office will receive their mandated raises after Gov. Paul LePage relented and signed off on the pay increases Monday.
The Legislature approved the mandatory 5 percent pay increase for assistant attorneys general, district attorneys and assistant district attorneys as part of the supplemental budget this spring. The raises were supposed to take effect with the new fiscal year July 1, but LePage refused to sign off on the necessary financial orders to increase the pay for the assistant attorneys general.
The assistant attorney general makes on average about $69,000 per year. The raises will be retroactive to July 1, according to Attorney General Janet Mills.
In August, LePage’s spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett said the Republican governor was withholding the raises for the 100 lawyers working under Mills, a Democrat, because of concerns about “mismanagement” of her office’s budget. Bennett said Mills’ department had a $255,000 shortfall at the end of the fiscal year.
Mills took umbrage with that accusation and said there was no shortfall. Every state budget anticipates a certain length of vacancy time for open positions, but several district attorney positions needed to be filled sooner than expected to avoid backlogs in the courts, she said. A state salary fund for such situations was tapped to pay the cost of hiring the needed district attorneys, she said.
The real motivation for the withheld raises was political, Mills said in August. She and LePage often have butted heads over the governor’s agenda, with several administration initiatives deemed unconstitutional by Mills. LePage, in return, has accused the attorney general of acting out of political malice.
Mills and Democrats on the Legislature’s budget-writing Appropriations Committee also decried LePage for withholding legally required raises for state attorneys while signing off on optional raises for allies within his administration.
Mills said Wednesday she was “delighted” LePage finally signed the financial orders but criticized the unpredictability of the governor’s actions.
“Other people can’t put their lives on hold just because he has some petty grievance against me,” she said.
LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment for this story.