Politics & Other Mistakes: You get what you pay for – or not

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Gov. Paul LePage has proposed increasing the salary of the governor and hiking expense reimbursements for state legislators. No doubt, there’s a good reason for these changes, but I don’t have the faintest idea what it is.

Nevertheless, I’m not opposed. Our elected officials deserve adequate compensation for the long hours they devote to making the rest of us miserable. If their salaries and expenses aren’t adjusted from time to time, they can become irritable, causing them to inflict even more suffering on the masses.

LePage is currently paid $70,000 per year, or $45 per irrational rant, whichever is higher. This figure was set in law back in 1987, the year “The Simpsons” first appeared on TV. It seemed like a lot of money at the time. Of course, “The Simpsons” seemed funny back then, too.

The governor also gets free housing in the Blaine House, free food, free transportation, free health care and an unaudited expense account of $35,000 a year. That’s roughly the same pay and benefit level as a YouTube vlogger living in his parents’ basement.

It is, however, significantly below the compensation of governors in most states. No matter how you feel about LePage, it’s hard to justify paying him less than a weasely incompetent like Chris Christie of New Jersey or that bumbling idiot from Connecticut whose name I’m not going to bother to look up.

LePage’s bill would raise the governor’s annual salary to $150,000, effective with the inauguration of the next chief executive in January. In return for that sizable bump, legislators ought to add a few amendments to the measure to make sure the public is getting its money’s worth.

For starters, the new governor would have to agree not to follow LePage’s example of taking vacations during legislative sessions. Unlike the incumbent, he or she would have to allow cabinet members to appear before legislative committees to answer questions. The governor’s schedule would have to be made available on a regular basis, a time-honored practice abolished during LePage’s tenure. And the executive branch would have to start abiding by the right-to-know law, ending the current administration’s refusal to acknowledge legitimate requests for information.

Also, the next chief executive should be required to fact-check speeches and other public utterances to avoid the sort of Trumpian distortions LePage is so fond of spewing. And it doesn’t seem too much to ask that a staff member edit out the racist and xenophobic comments LePage is prone to barf up in stressful moments.

I’ll gladly pay an extra 80 grand for all that.

Actually, I’ll gladly pay an extra 80 grand for a governor whose name isn’t LePage.

As for legislative remuneration, that’s a more complicated issue. Unlike the governor, state senators and representatives aren’t full-time employees. Over their two-year terms, they’re expected to be in Augusta for about 10 months, and to be coherent even less than that. They do have to respond to constituent concerns, attend ribbon cuttings and post offensive memes on Facebook, but even so, a salary of nearly $24,500 for the biennium doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Well, maybe a little unreasonable. But less so when you consider the perks that come with it. They get about $8,000 in mileage and meals allowance per session. They get reimbursed for travel in their districts, mailers and other incidentals, to the annual tune of $2,000 per senator and $1,500 per representative. They get free or low-cost health insurance, cheap dental and eye care, and free gym memberships. And they’re enrolled in the state retirement system, which costs taxpayers about $2,500 per legislator for each two-year term.

In the past, LePage has tied increasing the money legislators receive to reducing the size of the Legislature, so that nobody over 6 feet 4 inches could serve. To no one’s surprise, the taller members of the House and Senate intimidated their shorter colleagues into defeating that idea.

This time, LePage is backing an increase in meals reimbursement, from $32 per day to $50, and lodging, from $38 to $75. Those numbers don’t seem to be out of line with reality, which makes me wonder how somebody like LePage came up with them.

None of this salary and expense stuff should be particularly high on anybody’s priority list of things state government needs to address. But if throwing a little cash at these bozos makes them even slightly more responsive to real problems, it’s probably money well spent.

Pay me back by emailing aldiamon@herniahill.net.