For the last several months, public attention has focused on the LePage Administration’s proposal to eliminate health care benefits for 65,000 Maine children, seniors and disabled individuals. Now, while demanding devastating cuts for Maine’s most vulnerable citizens, the Governor is asking that his political appointees receive a windfall in the form of generous health insurance benefits he has taken away from other public employees.
Throughout the 2010 campaign and since taking office Governor LePage has disparaged public employees who work at hourly wages lower than what their private sector counterparts earn for comparable work. Last year, he demanded that they surrender hard fought benefits to fund tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy. Last year, the Governor proposed and the Legislature enacted a requirement that all of public employees from public safety workers to public health nurses to the people who plow the snow from our roads and highways must work until age 62 to receive full health insurance benefits upon retirement.
Today, the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee is set to take up a little known bill, LD 1657, to guarantee that the Governor’s political appointees receive health insurance benefits the Governor has taken away from other state employees. Under LD 1657, Governor LePage’s political appointees who have reached 25 years in state service can take early retirement and receive annual retiree health insurance benefits worth at least $8,736 a year, or $728 per month. And their windfall would adjust annually to cover future premium increases. By comparison, a state employee who works a comparable amount of time would still have to wait to age 62 to draw comparable benefits.
Are perquisites for political appointees really more important than life saving health care for those who can least afford it and comparable benefits for other public employees who have earned them?