AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage frequently reminds people that Maine is a poor state and unable to afford its generous welfare programs.

But when it comes to paying his own staff, LePage has been a generous boss compared to his Democratic counterparts in Vermont and New Hampshire.

A Sun Journal review of public salary records in the three states shows that the 10 top wage earners on LePage’s staff together cost taxpayers about $982,000 compared to the $819,000 Vermont’s governor pays his top 10, and the $699,714 paid to the top 10 in New Hampshire — a state LePage frequently says Maine should be more like.

In some cases, LePage is paying his staff nearly twice as much as their counterparts in New Hampshire and Vermont. Even so, when adjusted for inflation, LePage staffers do not earn as much as their predecessors had under Democratic Gov. John Baldacci. 

On average, LePage’s top 10 staff members, which include his communications team, his lawyer, chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, average about $98,252 a year, or about $40,000 more than the state’s median household income, according to U.S. Census data for 2014.

LePage Press Secretary Adrienne Bennett, for example, earns $92,934 compared to New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan’s communications director, William Hinkle, whose salary is $48,500. In Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin pays Deputy Chief of Staff and Press Secretary Scott Coriell $67,000.

Vermont and New Hampshire’s governors also appear to have only one staff member dealing with communications and public relations, whereas LePage has two. LePage pays Communications Director Peter Steele $91,312 a year.

LePage’s annual salary of $70,000 — a figure that was set by the Legislature and hasn’t been increased for years — is less than that made by all of the top 10 wage earners on his staff.  

The lowest salary of any governor in the country, LePage’s salary is about half of what Vermont pays Shumlin, who earns $145,000, and $55,000 less than Hassan’s $125,000 salary.

LePage’s staff collectively earns more than the top 10 best-paid partisan staff in both the House and the Senate.

Only the Legislature’s 10 highest paid nonpartisan staff, which includes the executive director of the Legislative Council and the revisor of statutes, earn more than LePage’s 10 highest paid staffers.

On average, the top 10 nonpartisan staff members earn $107,878 a year. The average salary for the top 10 partisan staff members in the House of Representatives is $77,484 and the average is $68,608 for the top 10 partisan Senate staff.

LePage’s press secretary, Bennett, said the Governor’s Office needs to offer salary figures that are competitive with the private sector.

“They may look high, but they are low compared to similar jobs in the private sector,” Bennett said. 

She also said it is unfair to compare Maine’s top 10 to Vermont and New Hampshire when LePage is also trying to compete with salaries paid by governors in states such as New York and Massachusetts.

“The governor is very good at surrounding himself with talented young people because he knows we need talented young people involved in policymaking,” Bennett said. “We need them engaged civilly and it is very tough to do when you are competing with the private sector and across the region.” 

Bennett and others who are on the top-10 lists for partisan positions within the Legislature also said people should consider that any job with an elected official comes with no long-term job security — and the higher pay reflects the potential risk of job loss.

Unlike nonpartisan staff, which can often serve in state government for decades until retirement, partisan staff — such as their elected bosses — ultimately serve at the whim of the voters.

“These positions are short term,” Bennett said, “and whether it be for four years or eight years, we don’t have the guarantee of a job after the administration is over. We don’t have indefinite job security.”

Still, LePage may actually be saving taxpayers money compared to Baldacci, who left office in 2009.

During his last year in office, Baldacci paid his top 10 employees a total of $917,999, or about $64,000 less than LePage is paying his top 10 now. But when that figure is adjusted for inflation, according to the federal government’s consumer price index, LePage’s staff actually earns $35,909 less in real dollars than Baldacci’s staff did.

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