Note to Maine lawmakers – it’s the thought that counts.

Accepting a salary increase this session, even at a minimal 3.7 percent, would hollow every statement about “everything’s on the table” in these difficult fiscal times. Or “leaving no stone unturned.” Or whichever cliché is most popular at the moment in time.

True, Maine lawmakers don’t earn that much – $18,540 over a two-year term, plus mileage, and expenses for meals and lodging. So 3.7 percent of not that much is even less. Yet the rationale for surrendering this salary increase this year has nothing to do with finances and everything to do with leadership and appearances.

Lawmakers must set the tone. They must look themselves in the mirror first, before asking all those who rely upon them to do the same. This reflexive quality has been lacking in state government, though, as opportunities to lead by example were either ignored or rebuffed.

What about moving state employees to DirigoHealth, to buttress the flagging flagship insurance program and prove the state’s faith in it isn’t mislaid? Doesn’t happen.

What about repeated calls to cut administrative staffing in the various offices of the legislative branch, including the governor’s office? Conservative advocates like the Alliance for Maine’s Future, for example, have made gubernatorial staffing a cottage industry. Doesn’t happen.

What about efforts to trim the size of Legislature, by reducing the number of lawmakers to bring Maine into more average apportionment with the nation? Doesn’t happen.

Yet when Dirigo is continually pushed, or government staffing questioned, or agencies told to become more efficient, these inactions become glaring. If what you’re saying is right, the argument goes, why don’t you do it yourself?

Or, as the proverb says more succinctly, “physician, heal yourself.”

House Speaker Hannah Pingree said Maine lawmakers are paid, comparatively, very little and that none “do it for the money.”

Exactly. We know legislators don’t serve for the compensation.

They do it for public service, idealism and respect for the democratic process. They serve because they are leaders in their communities, and they serve because we, the voters, believe their judgment is sound and their interests selfless.

They serve as examples to others, most of all.

And keeping a pay raise, especially now, is not an example they should wish to set.

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