AUGUSTA — The first conflict between Maine’s new Democratic legislative leaders and the Republican minority involves whether to pay returning Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, Attorney General Janet Mills and Clerk of the House Millicent MacFarland for past service.
Republican legislative leaders argue that state law requires their salaries to be set as if they were “newly elected.” Democrats want more time to study the law and look for similar past situations.
No direct precedent exists, as no prior secretary of state, attorney general or House clerk has returned to office after a break in service.
All three held those positions prior to 2010, when Republicans won majorities in both legislative chambers. A new Democratic majority in the Legislature returned Dunlap, Mills and MacFarland to those offices last week. Their salaries must be approved by the Legislative Council, a panel made up of the six Democrats and four Republicans who hold leadership positions in the 126th Legislature.
At the Legislative Council’s first meeting on Dec. 6, the panel tabled action on compensation for constitutional officers, the state auditor and the clerk of the House and secretary of the Senate. The panel is scheduled to address the matter at a meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Rep. Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, the new House minority leader, says state law is clear.
“We are not talking about tradition or precedent; we’re talking about statute for a newly elected position,” he said. “The fact that someone previously held the position is not relevant.”
Fredette also questioned why the Democrats’ leadership team had not presented a proposal on what to pay the constitutional officers, state auditor, House clerk and secretary of the Senate.
Jodi Quintero, spokeswoman for House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, said that Democratic leaders continue to study the question and will have a proposal in time for Wednesday’s meeting.
“We’re talking about setting the salaries,” she said. “It’s not appropriate to negotiate in public about a salary issue. We have not made a decision yet after carefully considering the law.”
Statute sets the salary for a new secretary of state and treasurer at $69,264, according to a memo from David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council. The state does not make retirement contributions for constitutional officers, but they do receive a 5 percent salary premium, which would elevate the compensation for secretary of state and treasurer to $72,727.
State law sets the “initial appointment” salary for attorney general at $92,248. With the 5 percent premium, the compensation would rise to $96,860.
Dunlap, who served as secretary of state from 2005 until early 2011, made more than $83,000 when he left office. Mills’ compensation was roughly $96,000. She served as attorney general for two years.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the annual mean wage for all occupations in Maine was $40,190 in May 2011.
Democrats argue that no existing legal opinion addresses the meaning of “initial appointment.” They point to a January 1985 opinion from Assistant Attorney General Cabanne Howard that it “does indicate that when faced with a similar situation at the establishment of this law that the council chose to recognize prior service through compensation.”
Fredette said the approach Democrats who lead the Legislative Council take on the compensation issue will signal the tone for the upcoming legislative session.
“The appearance of taking care of political people with, arguably, salaries inconsistent with Maine statute would be a troubling sign for the next two years ahead,” he said. “The statute lays the foundation. This is not just a conversation, this is a statute.”