In The News
Senator Mills Pushes Financial Disclosure
By Paul Carrier
Kennebec Journal / Morning Sentinel March 22, 2007
AUGUSTA - A veteran lawmaker wants the Legislature to give the public more information about its finances.
A bill sponsored by Sen. Peter Mills, R-Cornville, would force the Legislature to post "a detailed disclosure of legislative spending" on its Web site, along with similar information from other rural states, so Mainers could make comparisons.
A legislative committee opposed the bill Wednesday on a 12-0 vote, with one member absent. If all 13 members vote against the bill, it will die in committee without going to the full Legislature for further action.
Whatever the fate of his bill, Mills wants Mainers to know that some legislative staffers make more money than the commissioners who run state agencies.
For example, Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey is paid about $102,000 a year to run an agency that employs more than 3,000 people and has an annual budget of $3.1 billion, including state and federal funds. That makes Harvey the highest paid member of Gov. John Baldacci's cabinet. Baldacci is paid $70,000 a year.
The Legislature, which employs fewer than 220 people, some of them on a seasonal basis, has eight staffers who are paid more than $100,000 a year.
The highest-paid legislative aides include the Legislature's top non-partisan staffer, who makes about $120,500; the Senate secretary and the House clerk, who make about $109,000 each; and the heads of several professional offices within the Legislature, who are paid between $105,372 and $109,532 each.
"Some of these are very capable people, but they are very well-paid," Mills said.
Senate President Beth Edmonds said legislative salaries are not out of line, in part because top staffers in the Legislature do not have high-paid deputies to help them do their jobs, as some commissioners do.
All of the legislative staffers who make more than $100,000 have worked for the state for more than 10 years, and most of them have been state employees a lot longer than that. Legislative staffers need at least 10 years of state experience to reach the top step in their pay scale.
It will cost $52.5 million to run the Legislature for the two-year budget cycle that ends June 30 and a projected $55.9 million to run it for the next two years. That is only a fraction of the state's $5.8 billion general-fund budget, and Edmonds noted Wednesday that the projected increase in the legislative budget is within the spending cap set by state law.
But Mills argues that the Legislature's budget is noteworthy, despite its relatively small size, because of how the money is spent.
Despite Maine's ranking as the 40th state in population, it has the 10th largest Legislature in the country at 186 members -- 151 in the House of Representatives and 35 in the Senate, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Rep. Edward Finch, D-Fairfield, has proposed trimming the size of the House to 105 members, in part to save money. A public hearing has yet to be held on Finch's bill, but previous attempts to shrink the Legislature have gone nowhere.
Mills, who agrees the Legislature may be too large, says that is not the real problem in terms of cost because Maine does not pay its state legislators a lot of money.
Each legislator will get $12,615 this year and an estimated $9,254 next year, depending on cost-of-living adjustments due on Dec. 1.
The real cost, Mills says, is in the legislative staff, and budget figures bear that out.
The Legislature's proposed $55.9 million budget includes $43.2 million for salaries and benefits. Most of that -- about $34 million -- goes to the legislative staff rather than to legislators .
Mills said he can live with what he sees as excesses in the Legislature's budget "if it's all out in the open."
But Edmonds questions whether Mills' online disclosure bill is practical or necessary.
The legislative budget pending in the Appropriations Committee creates no new jobs, said David Boulter, the Legislature's top nonpartisan staffer. He said most of the increases in personnel costs stem from factors beyond legislators' control, such as rising insurance and pension costs.