2017-02-23 / Editorial

Governor doesn’t deserve a raise, you do

The median family income in Maine is about $51,500 annually. With that salary, a great number of Mainers have to stretch it to pay for everything from housing, utilities, food, transportation to medical expenses and taxes. Many families use at least some of their income to pay for education or child care. Those that can afford it try their best to put a little bit of money away every month for retirement or a rainy day.

The nature of a median average is that about half the families in Maine get by with even less money than that. Those families care for their children and their elders. They pay their bills and do their best to provide a good life for themselves.

Some families struggle. In Maine, the percentage of children living in extreme poverty is growing. These Maine children live in households that earn less than half the federal poverty line of about $10,000 for a family of three. These families live in a perpetual state of uncertainty, one accident or unexpected emergency expense away from homelessness.

I’ve worked my entire legislative career to support and defend the public policies that would help lift up those families to ensure everyone has a fair shot at the American dream. I’ve supported access to programs that help needy families keep food in the cupboard and receive necessary health care.

Every step of the way, Gov. Paul LePage has put up barriers to empower those in the middle class to do better while pushing policies to further enrich the very top in our society.

Hundreds of thousands of Mainers earn less than the estimated “living wage” for our state, many of whom earned just half the income they need to be financially secure in the modern world. For those Mainers, I joined in the effort to raise the minimum wage, which will increase economic security for more than 181,000 Maine workers.

That effort succeeded at the ballot box in November, despite Gov. LePage’s staunch opposition.

The governor’s opposition to programs that give muchneeded financial security to everyday Mainers is not a surprise. But comments he made this year shed new light on how woefully out-of-touch he is with the experience of regular people.

In a recent radio interview, he told listeners that he “felt like a priest or a nun” because of the way he’d gone into “poverty to serve the public.” This isn’t the first time he has complained and forced the subject of his pay. This has been a reoccurring theme throughout his time of office, having introduced his own proposals to increase his salary in previous sessions.

The position of Maine’s governor earns $70,000 per year. That’s not including all the perks. He and his family reside free-of-charge in a fully staffed mansion next to the StateHouse. He pays no transportation costs. He receives state-funded health insurance. He receives a full retirement plan for only a few years of work. On top of all that, he receives a $35,000 expense account, with which he can do whatever he pleases without any accountability to any other branch of government or to the public.

It’s true that $70,000 a year is the lowest salary of any governor. But the totality of the governor’s salary and benefits package means the governor of Maine earns double the state’s median income for an entire household. Those aren’t poverty wages as he suggests. Not even close.

The context of the governor’s statement is important, too. Currently, there’s a bill in the Legislature that would double the next governor’s salary, bringing it to $150,000. Given the already generous compensation package for the office of governor, I believe that bill is unnecessary and frankly offensive to the hardworking Mainers whose economic interests he has opposed at every turn. I think periodic adjustments based on inflation and other factors make more sense.

What isn’t widely known about this bill is that Gov. LePage would benefit directly from the change. A retired governor receives three-eighths of what the current governor is paid as the former governor’s retirement. The bill would double Gov. LePage’s retirement earnings, bringing them to $56,250 (another figure above the median income of an entire Maine family).

Talk about big government. If legislators can get by with $11,000 a year and having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet like I have to do, the governor can get by with his higher than average salary and second to none list of benefits. Moreover, there are more important priorities right now facing our state.

Poverty is real. Too many Mainers suffer from it. Gov. Paul LePage isn’t one of them, and he shouldn’t demean the real struggles faced by those families with a false narrative.

Justin Chenette is serving his first term as the youngest senator in the Maine Senate representing Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Hollis, Limington and Buxton. He previously served two terms in the Maine House of Representatives. Outside the Legislature, he is owner of Chenette Media LLC, a multimedia public relations company, and is the president/CEO of the Saco Bay Center of Civic Engagement, a 501c3 nonprofit service organization. Sign up for legislative updates at www.justinchenette.com or www.Facebook.com/JustinChenette.com.

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