AUGUSTA – A majority of state legislators who served last year are accepting checks to the tune of $3,755 each for work they were already paid for.

The total cost to taxpayers for what Sen. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, called “double dipping” will be $514,430, according to the David Boulter, executive director of the Legislative Council.

The one-time extra payments are rooted in a partisan disagreement over last year’s supplemental budget.

The budget passed along party lines with a simple majority of Democrats. Instead of taking more time to work out a budget compromise with Republicans, Democratic leaders quickly adjourned the Legislature, setting the clock ticking for the budget to take effect in 90 days, just in time for the next budget cycle.

If Democrats had waited any longer, they would have needed Republican support to get a two-thirds majority vote, necessary for the law to take effect immediately.

Leaders then called the Legislature into a special session, during what would have been the regular session, to complete weeks of work still left to be done.

Angry about being left out, some lawmakers charged that they should get “special session” pay – $100 per day – on top of their normal salary of $8,655 for the four-month session. Special session pay is typically given when lawmakers are called back to work after the normal session has ended.

Democrats responded by passing another law saying no extra special-session pay could be given unless the special session occurred after the regular adjournment date, Boulter said.

Four legislators – Rep. Robert Daigle, R-Arundel; Sen. Tom Sawyer, R-Bangor; Rep. Gary Sukeforth, an independent of Union; and Rep. Albion Goodwin, D-Pembroke – took the issue to court. The court ruled the new pay law could not be retroactive, which meant legislators who served last year are entitled to the additional pay, Boulter said.

Out of 182 eligible legislators, 137 legislators are accepting the checks, 49 refused. Some 77 Republicans accepted along with 58 Democrats and two independents.

Democrat Rotundo said she didn’t take the money because it was pay “I hadn’t earned. We had been paid. I felt it was double dipping, even though the courts had ruled that we were entitled to this money. That money belonged to the people of Maine.”

Rotundo, co-chair of the Appropriations Committee, said the $514,430 should be used to help Maine’s most vulnerable and people in her district. “I didn’t take it, and I can go to bed and sleep at night.”

Some Republicans blamed Democrats for the extra cost to taxpayers from their extra pay.

Rep. Robert Berube, R-Lisbon, said he’s taking his $3,655 because he’s unhappy with Democrats passing the budget without Republicans.

“We’re taking money authorized by the Constitution,” Berube said. “It would be maybe altruistic not to take it, but it would not be realistic. Many of us are going to contribute a substantial portion” to charity, he said.

When asked about state overspending and the $514,430 cost to taxpayers, Berube responded, “That was decided by the court, and decided by actions of the majority party by adjourning and going into special session. This was all done by the majority party, not by us.”

Rep. Janet Mills, D-Farmington, refused the money “because I was paid my regular salary. It wasn’t part of the deal when I ran for office that I would get pay for special sessions.”

But some legislators said they are taking the money because they’re concerned about getting taxed on it even if they don’t take it.

Rep. William Walcott, D-Lewiston, said “I hadn’t intended to take it until all the questions about taxes came up. I don’t make enough money to pay taxes on $4,000 without having the $4,000. I couldn’t afford that. As a single guy, the taxes could be between $500 and $1,000.”

Asked how he would respond to critics unhappy with lawmakers taking pay twice for the same job, Walcott said, “I don’t disagree.” He said he voted against the extra pay last year, and until recently was telling other legislators not to take the money – “until the tax question came up. I couldn’t afford to pay the taxes.”

Beyond the tax question, Berube referred to a potential hypocrisy.

He pointed out that many Democrats, who earlier said the extra pay was wrong, took the money. “You can’t say it’s wrong on one side and go ahead and take it at the same time,” Berube said.

Sen. Lois Snowe-Mello, R-Poland, said she’s using her $3,840 to help pay for a new car, which she said will help her better serve her constituents. She called her old car “dangerous.”

Snowe-Mello said she had no qualms about taking the money. “By law we’re allowed to do that. It’s really the principle of it. We went into special session. It was in the law we could get that money. The way the majority party has gone about (passing a budget) was improper. So we fought for that money. Why do we have it in law if we can’t utilize that?”

Legislators “work hard in Augusta” and give up “a lot to serve the state,” Snowe-Mello added.

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