Governor and Legislature, Heal Thyself: Why the State House is a good place to look for budget savings

Read the full report | As the Maine Legislature looks to complete the supplemental budget bill, it would do well to look for additional savings within the walls of the venerable State House itself, which, upon its opening in 1832, housed all of Maine state government. Today it is home to only two state agencies, the legislature and the governor’s office. Those two, however, have among the fastest growing budgets in state government. The legislature’s budget was more than $13,800,000 in 1998, ten years ago, but it is budgeted to spend more than $25,000,000 in the fiscal year starting this summer, an 84 percent increase. The governor’s office spent a little more than $1,400,000 in FY 2000, but appropriated a $2,900,000 budget this year and is  budgeted to spend more than $3,000,000 next year — more than double what the office spent just eight years ago.

What can be done to find savings? Plenty.

• A recent report by the legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability (OPEGA) revealed that the most significant driver of the governor’s budget has been the hiring of very highly paid staff. From 1997 to 2002, the number of “Special Assistants to the Governor” grew slightly, from 28 to 29, but then grew from 29 to 43 between 2002 and 2007. Those “Special Assistants” enjoy a salary and benefits package worth, on average, well over $70,000.

• As with the governor’s office, the near-doubling of the legislative budget in ten years has been driven primarily by the steady growth of staff. In particular, the size of the so-called “partisan staff,” who work in the Majority and Minority offices of both legislative bodies, has almost tripled since 1987.

• Not only are there too many people working for the legislature, they are paid too much. A recent report by The Maine Heritage Policy Center identified 45 members of the legislative staff with annual pay and benefits in excess of $100,000. This is despite the fact that the legislature is in session only ten months out of every two-year legislative term.

• A recently commissioned study on the workings of the legislature found numerous opportunities for savings, including merging the Law and Legislative Reference Library with the nearby State Library, restructuring the legislature’s nonpartisan support offices, and replacing the costly partisan staff with a non-partisan constituent services agency.