A SPECIAL COMMISSION is recommending substantial salary raises for the governor and lieutenant governor of Maryland to the state's General Assembly. At present the governor is paid only $25,000. The commission unanimously recommended a salary of $60,000 for the governor and $52,500 for the lieutenant governor. In addition, the commission has proposed ways to tighten up other financial arrangements linked to the top elected office. These recommendations make sense and should be approved.
In today's market, the salaries the commission suggests are not excessive. For example, in the states closest to Maryland, the 1979 salaries for governors are scheduled to range from $35,000 in Delaware to $50,000 in West Virginia, $60,000 in Virginia, $65,000 in New Jersey and $66,000 in Pennsylvania. Moreover, the fiscal 1978 salaries of many other Maryland officials already are considerably higher than the governor's current salary: The lieutenant governor, attorney general and comptroller are each paid $44,856; the chief judge of the court of appeals, $47,500; the transportation secretary and the superintendent of schools, $49,700.
In recommending the raises, commission chairman Alfred L. Scanlon and the members rightly emphasized the need for salaries that would enable people of "outstanding ability to devote all the their time to the job without experiencing a substantial drop in living standards," as well as the importance of precluding the necessity for other financial "assistance." As you may recall, the sufficiency of the governor's salary came up during the political-corruption trial of Gov. Marvin Mandel. Mr. Mandel, who was convicted of taking valuable gifts from friends in exchange for his help in enriching their business interest, said he accepted the gifts in part because his salary was too low to meet heavy financial demands in connection with his divorce.
The recommended raises would not affect the salary of the present acting governor, Blair Lee III. If the legislature takes no action on the commission's salary recommendations, the increases will go into effect at the start of the new four-year term of the governor in 1979. But other improvements suggested by the commission do need active approval by the General Assembly. These additional proposals complement the salary recommendations - and their passage would provide the legislators with an even stronger case for allowing the raises to take effect.
One proposal, for example, would require much stricter accounting of the governor's $40,000-a-year mansion expense fund. As it stands, this money - usually advanced to a governor at the rate of $10,000 each quarter, can be spent with no accountability and no audit whatsoever. The commission also suggests changes in the law that now sets a retired governor's pension at half the salary of the incumbent; instead, a retiring future governor having served at least one full term would be eligible at 55 for one-third the annual salary received during his last term, along with cost-of-living adjustments.
Above all, the commission urges a code of public conduct that would require full financial disclosure by the top two elected officers, set a monetary limit on gifts that could be accepted, and restrict post-service employment. By now it should go without saying that the legislators in Annapolis should be sensitive to public disenchantment with the past relationships of money and politics in the state. The governor's salary commission has presented an impressive report that deserves prompt and total support in this Assembly session.