$55 billion is a lot of money. How’s that for understatement?
However, with everything going on in Maine, the United States, and the world right now, you might have missed that Elon Musk is on track to earn that over the next 10 years. Assuming his car company — Tesla — can overcome certain hurdles. If he does, that turns into $5.5 billion a year. Or 78,571 times the pay of Maine’s governor.
One of the distinctions our state holds is that it pays the governor less than anyone. In 1987, we set the salary — by law — at $70,000, and we’ve kept it there ever since.
Now, $70,000 isn’t a bad paying job. And when you add in room and board plus other perks of the office, no one believes Maine’s governor (whoever it might be) is impoverished.
But there is something to be said about signaling the value of the full-time job. The governor of the state oversees a budget in excess of $6 billion. More than Musk even stands to make in a year. There are over 10,000 state employees, a significant number of whom earn more than the chief executive. And we don’t ask people to accept Maine’s 1987 minimum wage — it was $3.65 — today.
So, although Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal to increase the pay for his successor — whoever it might be — is probably the easiest piece of legislation to ridicule, it probably makes sense. He has suggested bumping it from $70,000 to $150,000.
In 1987, our median household income was $23,600. Today, it is about $51,000, or 2.15-times more. And if you multiply $70,000 by 2.15, you get just over $150,000. Not so crazy.
As a sweetener, LePage also proposed a nice little bump in the per diem allowance legislators receive. That probably makes sense, too. Currently, in the event a senator or representative needs to stay the night in Augusta, they get $32 for meals and $38 for a hotel room. The governor thinks it should go up to $50 and $75. Of course, the Legislature had already passed a law giving themselves annual raises, so there is no need to adjust their pay.
However, since they’re asked, there will probably be some who suggest increasing the salary paid to our legislators. The rationale will be, basically, that such public service takes a lot of time and effort, which limits the pool of possible citizen legislators to the independently wealthy; students, business owners, and professionals who can make their own schedule; and retirees.
It is a legitimate criticism. Although, unless we are going to demand full-time, professional legislators (please, no), it seems unlikely that part-time money will overcome the time sink that is Augusta and legislative sessions.
Reform might be better weighed in terms of the structure of our state government. We enacted term limits without teeth, which has done naught but give power to lobbyists and bureaucracies. Institutional knowledge is lacking, with “good idea fairies” not realizing their policy had been studied, weighed, considered, and summarily dismissed in the past, probably with good reason.
And, with an egalitarian nod, every single bill — over 1,800 in the current Legislature — gets drafted by state employees, put on a calendar, assigned to a committee, given a public hearing, and reviewed at a work session. In many cases, it is a colossal waste of resources that could be better spent elsewhere.
If we looked at reducing the sheer amount of time legislative service requires, ending sessions quickly, then maybe more citizens could be involved with their government. With a larger pool of possible candidates, maybe we would find the ballot box has more teeth than term limits. And maybe we wouldn’t need to pay as much in hotel rooms, since our legislators wouldn’t need to sleep in Augusta.
That would be a good, albeit boring, goal for our next governor. But in the meantime, let’s increase her or his pay. At $150,000, Elon Musk will only earn 36,666-times as much. What a deal.