Maine lawmakers could see their salaries rise in the next legislature
May 5—Maine lawmakers, who are among the lowest paid in the nation, could be getting a sizable raise.
Members of the State and Local Government Committee on Thursday gave unanimous, bipartisan approval to a bill, L.D. 1155, that would increase salaries for House and Senate members to $25,000 in the first year of each legislature and to $20,000 in the second. The bill does not suggest changes to other compensation, including per diems for meals and reimbursement for mileage or temporary housing during sessions, and would not go into effect until the next session.
The bill still requires passage in the full House and Senate — not to mention a way to pay for it in the next budget — but Rep. David Woodsome, R-North Waterboro, who sponsored the bill, said the increase is long overdue.
"It's time," he said Friday. "During my last couple of terms, I had to cut into my retirement just to do the job. To be very honest, over the years, I don't know how some of these elected officials do it. I think the vast majority are just average people with average incomes who have to make big sacrifices."
Woodsome said the last time the base salary for lawmakers was raised was 1999, although there have been regular cost of living adjustments since then. Cost of living adjustments are calculated using the Consumer Price Index and cannot exceed 5%.
During the most recent full session, lawmakers earned a base salary of $15,417 for the first regular session and $10,999 for the second regular session. They also received a meal allowance of $32 per day and a housing allowance of $38 per day. Those who opted not to stay in Augusta during sessions received mileage reimbursement, capped at $38 per day.
The raise would not go into effect until after the next round of elections when a new legislature convenes at the end of 2024.
Although a fiscal note has not yet been added to the legislation, the proposal would add roughly $3.5 million to the next two-year budget to pay for the increases for 35 senators and 151 representatives.
Recent Maine legislatures have debated similar proposals to increase pay, but they have always failed, partly because of the optics of lawmakers voting to increase the amount of money in their pockets.
"I know there are some lawmakers who are worried about that," said Woodsome, who was a teacher for 35 years before he retired in 2014. "But you can't stay in a job where you're losing money."
The bill also comes as the Legislature has faced some criticism for a proposal from Democratic Rep. Benjamin Collings of Portland to create dedicated housing for lawmakers for $27 million. That measure drew opposition from within the Legislature as well as from local innkeepers.
The State and Local Government Committee also voted unanimously Thursday to increase the salary for governor, from $70,000, which is the lowest in the nation, to $125,000. Maine has not increased the salary for the top executive in more than three decades and, unlike legislators, the governor doesn't get regular cost of living increases. That bill, if approved by the full Legislature, would not go into effect until the next governor is elected.
Maine has always had a part-time citizen legislature with members who represent a wide range of professions — small business owners, farmers, teachers and lawyers. Because of the low salaries and sometimes unpredictable hours, lawmakers drawn to serve have often been retired or have had flexible jobs, which limits the diversity of voices, supporters of the bill argue.
A 2018 survey by the National Conference of State Legislatures, a national nonprofit that provides research to lawmakers and the public, found Maine's salaries for lawmakers to be among the lowest in the country.
Ten states have what are considered full-time legislatures, including Massachusetts, New York and California, and the salaries there are commensurate. The base salary for lawmakers in Massachusetts is $70,000, but most make far more than that with stipends for meals and travel.
During the public hearing on Woodsome's bill, testimony was unanimously supportive.
Two former lawmakers both spoke about how they left the Legislature because they could no longer afford to serve.
"I'm not wealthy. I don't have a savings account or trust fund I could draw on to make up the difference," said Scott Cuddy of Winterport, a construction worker. "If it weren't for the free childcare I got from family I would have gone broke serving in the Legislature. As it is I lived in a cycle of banking everything I could while I was working so that I could have something to help me get through the sessions."
Cuddy explained that during the first year of the most recent legislature in which he served, he was paid just under $14,000 for roughly seven months of work, from December through June. He estimated that he could have made $37,000 in contracting work during that time.
Genevieve McDonald of Stonington said she, too, couldn't make the math work. In 2021 — the last year she served in the House — she made $14,699 and spent $14,250 on childcare alone.
"Maine will not have a truly citizen legislature until more people can afford to serve," she said. "Lawmakers should be paid a salary that will do more to bridge the gap between altruism and financial stability. Lawmakers should be able to focus on their legislative work and the important issues that are deliberated in this building, and not the need to be earning income elsewhere."
Several advocacy groups supported the measure as well.
"Legislators are responsible for shaping the policies that affect our state and its residents," said Will Sedlack, political director for Maine Conservation Voters. "They spend countless hours in committee meetings, researching complex issues, and meeting with constituents to understand their concerns. Increasing their salaries would help to attract and retain public servants who are committed to serving their constituents and making a positive impact in our state."