Politics & Other Mistakes: Paycheck blues

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Gov. Janet Mills is leaving Maine to become governor of Iowa.

The reason: Iowa pays its chief executive almost twice as much as Maine.

Mills, who earns a paltry $70,000 a year, the lowest gubernatorial salary of any state, also had offers from Kentucky ($148,781), Maryland ($170,000) and North Dakota ($129,096), but went with the Iowa deal ($130,000) because it comes with unlimited corn and pork products. What politician could resist?

Like 95 percent of the political emails I receive every day, most of the preceding two paragraphs is false. Unlike sports teams and corporations, governors aren’t recruited by the competition with promises of excessive salaries and lavish perks. Every state has plenty of local talent lining up for a shot at the top office. Except, maybe, New Jersey. But in most places, there’s no need to expand the pool of applicants by soliciting out-of-staters.

The job of governor always attracts an excess of candidates because it comes with a benefit few occupations can offer: power. That’s far more attractive than money, corn fritters or sausage.

Nevertheless, some legislators are concerned that if Maine doesn’t increase the governor’s salary, the state is going to end up with an unqualified bozo in the Blaine House. As if that would ever happen.

The State Compensation Commission recently issued a report that said the guv’s paycheck is “embarrassingly low, suggesting a disrespect for the position and making Maine an outlier from the rest of the country.” Like that’s a bad thing?

The commission called for increasing the governor’s salary to $130,000 and boosting the office’s expense account (which is definitely not a slush fund) from $30,000 to $40,000 annually. The report said these increases are needed because it’s tough to scrape by on 70 grand, free housing in an historic mansion, free food, free transportation, free health care, generous retirement benefits and taxpayer-funded servants.

Somehow, though, most of us do.

The median household income in the state in 2018 was $55,602. No free house. No free car. No servants. Possibly some partially subsidized medical insurance and an inadequate retirement plan.

Don’t get me wrong. Since the governor’s salary hasn’t been increased since 1987, some sort of pay hike should be on the table – where it can compete with all the other demands for our tax dollars. Such as:

• The waiting list of severely disabled adults in need of housing and assistance.

• The lack of services for foster parents sheltering abused and neglected children.

• The shortage of drug treatment facilities.

• Decaying roads and bridges, as well as feeble mass transit options.

• The increased threats of coastal flooding, forest fires and other consequences of global warming.

• Buying out Central Maine Power Co. and relocating its executives to cold, dark hovels located under power lines in what was formerly wilderness.

On any reasonable person’s priority list of state spending, increasing the governor’s salary would likely come after all those items, not to mention doing something about high liquor prices and ridiculous marijuana regulations.

Still, there are those who persist in advocating for the guv to get a raise. Chief among them is former Gov. Paul LePage, who complained during a 2017 radio interview, “I feel like a priest or a nun, you know. You go into poverty to serve the public.”

For the record, in 2018, the supposedly penniless LePage and his wife bought a house in Florida in a private, gated community on a golf course and overlooking what the Lewiston Sun Journal quoted a real estate agent as calling a “serene wooded setting.” Complete with pool and large covered porch, it cost the allegedly indigent former governor $360,000.

It’s good to be poor.

So good, in fact, that LePage, who’s now a legal resident of the Sunshine State, has repeatedly threatened to return to Maine and run against Mills in 2022. To do that, LePage would have to establish a residence here, and there’s no telling how he’d manage to maintain two addresses on the governor’s meager salary.

Yet another excellent argument against handing out a raise.

Raise points or middle fingers by emailing [email protected].

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