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Maine Lawmaker's Bill Targets Governor's Pension
03/18/2013   Reported By: A.J. Higgins

Under current Maine law, a governor can serve for a single day, resign and become eligible for a $26,000 a year, lifetime pension benefit. That's just not fair, according to state Sen. Troy Jackson, who has submitted a bill that specifically targets state retirement benefits owed to Maine Gov. Paul LePage. Jackson's bill would require LePage to be elected to a second term in order to receive retirement benefits. As A.J. Higgins reports, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say the bill is unfair.

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The constitutional amendment proposed by state Sen. Troy Jackson specifically targets Republican Gov. Paul LePage's retirement benefits, and the Allagash Democrat says that he'd rather see his bill killed if it isn't going to accomplish that purpose.

It all goes back to a budget agreement advanced two years ago by LePage and -- at that time - majority Republicans to scale back retirement benefits to state employees. "I think when someone makes a stand on this, they should put their money where their mouth is," Jackson says.

Jackson wants to erase what he views as a double standard dealt to state workers two years ago when LePage demanded changes to the state retirement plan. Wages were frozen and cost-of-living increases for state employees were capped at 3 percent as a way to reduce state pension debt by about $1.7 billion.

None of the changes were applied to Gov. Paul LePage's pension, and Jackson says that hardly seems fair, since the governor balanced his budget on the backs of state workers. Under Maine law, LePage is entitled to $26,000 a year in retirement benefits -- even if he had only served a single day in office.

Jackson told members of the Legislature's State and Local Government Committee that his bill would require LePage -- and all future governors -- to be elected to two terms before they could receive retirement benefits.

"Twenty-six thousand dollars for one day of retirement is a pretty hard thing to swallow when you've worked 30 or 35 years and you'll never get anywhere close to getting that," Jackson told colleagues. "So I can't just understand why we would want to have someone serve as little as one day to get that entire retirement."

Committee member Rep. Terry Hayes, a Buckfield Democrat, questioned Jackson on his intention to use a constitutional amendment to single out LePage as a sitting governor.

"If we were to approve what you're proposing, it would be an amendment that states, in the negative, that one could not be provided, but there isn't one currently provided under the Constitution," she said.

"What there is in the Constitution is no sitting governor can have his benefits changed, so that's why it has to be a constitutional amendment," Jackson responded. "Because I certainly think that this sitting governor should be affected by this change."

"The fact is that this particular bill is a punitive action against the sitting governor," said independent Rep. Jeff Evangelos. "And I saw the bill, I don't think it's a good idea and I'm here to tell you that."

Evangelos and some Republican members of the committee view Jackson's bill as nothing more than an act of political retaliation. Rep. Brian Jones, a Democrat from Freedom, says Jackson's bill goes beyond political shenanigans and is a personal affront to the chief executive.

"This distracting legislative proposal does nothing to further the good will needed to productively engage in the hard work of leading Maine through these difficult times," Jones said. "In fact, its consideration makes the environment required for cooperation and collegiality even more toxic."

And if Jackson is looking for someone to scapegoat for the benefit cuts to state employees two years ago, Democratic state Rep. Terry Hayes, of Buckfield, told the northern Maine lawmaker that he might want to include some Democrats on that list as well.

"This was done as part of a budget, those of us who were here voted on it," Hayes said. "No governor could have done it on his own. This was not a single act by one individual, this was a collaborative act. And although I might not be proud of it, I helped."

Lawmakers on the State and Local Government Committee will review the pension bill at a future meeting.



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