December 18, 2010

LePage says pay laws limiting cabinet choices

'Adversely affecting out ability to get the best people'

BY MAL LEARY, Capitol News Service

AUGUSTA -- Gov.-elect Paul LePage wants to have his Cabinet named by the end of the year but said state pay laws that limit compensation has cost him some of his first choices.

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Gov. -elect Paul LePage


"You try to get as much money as you possibly can for them, and if that is not enough, you have to go to Nos. 1, 2, 3 and down the list," he said in an interview.

"I will emphatically say it is adversely affecting our ability to get the best people," LePage said.

He said one top candidate for commissioner of the Department of Health and Human Services turned down the job because he could not afford the cut in pay.

LePage said it is not only the private sector paying more than Maine state government, it is other state governments as well as he has searched nationwide to fill some of the cabinet positions.

"Not everyone can afford to take a 70 percent cut in pay to serve their state," LePage quipped while saying he is taking a 70 percent cut from his own salary as CEO at Marden's Surplus & Salvage.

The governor's salary is set in state law at $70,000.

LePage said his first choices for two key commissioners' posts -- DHHS and Education -- turned down offers to serve. The two departments handle over 80 percent of state spending.

Commissioners can make more than the governor, with salaries set in ranges by law. Most commissioners are in "Pay Range 91," which is from $76,190 a year to $109,990 a year.

The DHHS commissioner has the highest salary range for commissioners: a minimum of $97,323 to a maximum salary of $134,139.

That LePage is having trouble convincing people to join his administration is not a surprise to Senate President Kevin Raye, R-Perry.

Raye said that while most state workers are paid well compared to their private-sector counterparts, executive posts are not.

"Any governor has to find people to serve because they want to serve the state, not because of the salary they will receive," he said.

Raye said many companies pay far more for executives comparable to state department heads.

He quickly added that does not mean he supports bringing state executive salaries into line with the private sector.

"Generally, the people that are drawn to public service are drawn by ideals other than salary," he said, "I think there has to be a happy medium."

House Minority Leader Emily Cain, D-Orono, said other governors have faced similar challenges.

"Pay levels in the state of Maine are always held up to scrutiny and to criticism because the median income in our state is low," she said. "People have concerns if the people they are paying are making salaries they think are too high."

Median household income in Maine is $46,419 according to U.S. Census figures.

LePage has thus far announced four cabinet choices:

* Former Waterville Police Chief John Morris, as commissioner of Public Safety;

* Defense and Veterans and Emergency Management Commissioner Bill Libby;

* former Rep. Sawin Millett as finance commissioner; and

* Bill Beardsley as Conservation commissioner.

Three are retired; Libby had announced his planned retirement.

LePage has yet to announce 12 Cabinet-level positions.

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