Instead of pressing ahead with a plan to more than double the governor’s salary, one of the Democrats seeking to win the state’s top job said lawmakers ought to slash it.

Former Portland state Rep. Diane Russell said that “raising the wage of the governor is probably the worst idea I’ve seen.”

She said that instead of hiking the position’s annual pay from $70,000 to $150,000 — as a legislative committee has endorsed — it ought to be tied to the median earnings of Mainers.

The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey most recently pegged the median household income in Maine at $53,079, significantly less than what the governor earns each year.

Maine’s governor is the lowest-paid state executive in the nation, earning about half the average compensation. The pay level hasn’t been increased since 1987.

Gov. Paul LePage has complained that he feels “like a priest or a nun” because “you go into poverty to serve the public.”


But Russell, one of seven Democrats competing in a June 12 gubernatorial primary, told a forum in Auburn this week that it’s not the governor who is scraping by. It’s actually the people who serve in the Legislature.

Legislators, she said, are “making poverty wages” in their part-time positions.

Legislators earn about $24,400 spread over their two-year terms along with a $38 daily reimbursement for meals and lodging while they’re in session. They also get health care coverage.

Rep. Christopher Babbidge, D-Kennebunk, told colleagues recently that legislative pay is too low.

“The largest single group in the Legislature is retirees, in no small way because Social Security, pensions, and Medicare help legislators avoid financial distress that might normally be caused by a small legislative salary,” he said.

“Across the nation it is not a coincidence that the highest-paid legislatures have a younger median age, and that the lowest-paid legislatures have the oldest median age,” Babbidge said.


He urged legislators to form a study commission to decide how much political leaders should be paid.

While the salary paid to governors may not match what other states fork over, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

Governors also receive a $35,000 allocation for personal expenses, free lodging in the historic Blaine House next door to the State House, health and dental insurance, life insurance and a retirement package.

When he asked lawmakers last month to consider hiking the governor’s pay, LePage said the compensation level “should be competitive to attract the best talent. Maine deserves a governor with executive leadership experience who is in the prime of their career.”

“Leaders who would make excellent governors have told me they won’t consider running because of the pay cut,” LePage said. “Competitive compensation is good public policy.”

The bill approved 11-1 by the State and Local Government Committee this week “would place Maine in the middle of the pack” for gubernatorial compensation, LePage said, “just below the New England average for 2019 and slightly above the national average.”


The measure, which hasn’t been voted on yet by either the House or the Senate, would have no effect on LePage’s salary or retirement benefits.

In addition to raising the governor’s pay, the bill would hike the daily lodging allowance for legislators from $38 to $75. LePage had asked for $125 allowance for legislators who have to stay overnight in Augusta.

“We should not expect legislators who travel great distances to Augusta to represent their communities to have to dig into their own pockets to cover the costs of staying overnight rather than drive several hours back home each day,” LePage said.

Former state Rep. Diane Russell recites the Pledge of Allegiance at the start of the Democratic gubernatorial forum Tuesday night at Central Maine Community College in Auburn. At left is Sanford lawyer Adam Cote. At right is Maine Attorney General Janet Mills. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

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