Pay raise for Maine governor 20 years overdue

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Who goes 19 years without a pay raise?

Maine’s governor. For the nearly two decades the job has paid the same thing: $70,000 per year.

For that salary to have the same buying power it did back in 1987, the job would have to pay nearly $120,000. In real terms, each succeeding governor since Jock McKernan has earned less and less, year by year.

John Baldacci is now the lowest-paid governor in the nation, right behind the governor of Arkansas. There are state employees who make three times as much as their boss, which doesn’t make a bit of sense. There are city managers in the state who earn more than the governor.

An effort to increase the governor’s pay is about to meet a predictable death in the Legislature. It’s an election year, and nobody wants to touch the issue.

Even though any raise would not apply to the current occupant of the office, Gov. John Baldacci immediately announced that he would veto the measure. That’s smart politics but unwise government. The governor simply didn’t want to get hammered in the coming election by misinformed voters who thought he had given himself a pay raise.

Proponents of the pay increase even offered to bar anyone who might win the governor’s seat in November from getting the raise, lest voters think legislators running for governor would benefit.

Didn’t work.

Then the group tried something eminently logical: It offered to take the governor’s pay out of the hands of politicians and toss it to a bipartisan commission, which would also examine the pay for judges in the state.

That, too, was shot down.

Think what you want about the current occupant of the Blaine House, being governor is no picnic. The personal demands are brutal – nights, weekends, summer parades and military funerals. The cost to a person’s family and health must be extraordinary, not to mention the simple stress of running a giant bureaucracy, dealing with State House politics and fending off meddling editorial writers.

Of course, opposition to a pay hike is all part of the illogical political theater of Augusta. Although a fair salary for the job makes sense, although other state employees earn far more, and although the CEOs of similarly sized organizations probably could pay their country club dues with our governor’s salary, the pay raise was voted down 123-17 by the House.

Unless the Legislature finds some backbone on this difficult issue, it will be another 19 years before a Maine governor gets a pay raise.

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