House approves reduction in size of legislature
AUGUSTA - In a move which surprised many representatives today, the house approved a bill which would reduce the size of the House of Representatives by 20 members.
The bill was adopted by unanimous consent by the house, following a motion to kill the bill failing by a vote of 22 to 123. The passage of LD 144, a resolution proposing an amendment to the state constitution to reduce the number of representatives in the house from 151 to 131 members, came as a surprise to some members of the State and Local Government subcommittee, who had been debating the issue.
"It really was pretty stunning," Rep. Lance Harvell (R - Farmington), who sits on that subcommittee and addressed the legislature in favor of the bill, said. "No one really thought it had a prayer at first."
The amendment actually approved by the house was submitted by Rep. David Van Wie (D - New Gloucester), who recommended modifications to the original bill sponsored by Rep. Patrick Flood (R - Winthrop). Unlike Flood's bill, Van Wie did not recommend reducing the size of the senate and supported a more modest cut of 20 representatives rather than Flood's 35. While the bill simply calls for an amendment to state's constitution, the actual process would be far more complex. Even if the senate supports its passage, a state referendum would be needed to alter the constitution. According to Harvell, the change would not go into effect until 2013, when new demographics data had been gathered through the census.
Harvell said he based his address to the legislature on the concept of sacrifice, noting that the house had considered several tough budget-related issues.
"We're cutting everybody," Harvell said, "but no one wants to touch us. It's time to look in the mirror and say 'I'm doing something to help.'"
"Now is the time to make this change," House Majority Leader John Piotti (D - Unity) said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon. "We are asking all levels of state government to sustain cuts and create new efficiencies. Our actions show that the Legislature is serious about this as well."
Harvell admitted that the reduction was in many ways a symbolic one, estimating the reduction would save $1.6 million through savings such as legislator salaries and staffing cuts.
"It's not a drastic move," Harvell said, noting that the state currently had the fifth largest legislature in the country. This amendment would make it the sixth largest instead. Legislators who currently serve roughly 8,400 constituents would serve roughly 10,000 constituents instead.
Harvell said that people seemed surprised with the outcome, although the bill did enjoy bipartisan support. The senate will take up the matter, likely within a week.