StebeltonWhen outgoing Ohio Representative Gerald Stebelton introduced House Bill 661 to increase the annual salaries of Ohio’s elected officials, he missed a grand opportunity to put his money where his mouth is.  Stebelton has long decried the current standard pay scales that teachers typically follow, pushing a merit-based pay structure for school districts.  In his bill, however, Stebelton simply seeks to update the existing legislative pay structure for elected officials where everyone gets the exact same base pay regardless of their individual efforts.  It’s beyond hypocritical.

House Bill 661 isn’t likely all bad, however, as it does seek to increase compensation for a variety of important, full-time jobs across the state (though it still doesn’t come close to any semblance of merit pay).  The bill would increase salaries for county sheriffs, coroners, supreme court justices, judges in the appeals, municipal, and common pleas courts, county auditors, treasurers, recorders, commissioners, engineers, court clerks, prosecuting attorneys, township trustees, and members of election boards.  These positions have not seen raises established by law since 2008.

Why Stebelton still feels like these salaries should all be mandated by state law while the teachers’ salaries should be left up to local entities is still anyone’s guess.  You would think that the GOP’s desire for “smaller government” and “local control” would result in the salary for these positions being taken out of state law and put in the hands of the local governments in the same way Stebelton wants the minimum teacher salary schedule eradicated from state law.

Anyway, there are a lot of hard-working people who would be positively impacted by this bill around the state.

Now let’s talk about the members of Ohio’s General Assembly and the impact on their salaries.

The bill seeks to establish the base salaries as follows:

GA Salaries

Furthermore, individuals are assigned to head up various committees.  Strangely, there is no evidence-based rubric to determine how these appointments are made, so they are based not on merit, but arbitrarily assigned by the leadership.  These committees typically meet during the “work day”, but the individuals still receive hefty stipends for serving in these roles above and beyond their normal salary:

GA Committees

I don’t think there are many who would disagree that $60,583.70 is a damn good starting salary for a job that has all holidays off, typically has at least two weeks off for “Spring” and “Winter” Breaks as well as the entire week of Thanksgiving.

To be clear, this is exactly what the members are all making right now and have been since 2008.  What this bill seeks to do is give them annual raises.  Forever.

Here’s the part of HB661 that really caught my attention:

(5) If a member is absent without leave, or is not excused on the member’s return, there shall be deducted from the member’s compensation twenty dollars for each day’s absence.
(B) Each In calendar year from 2002 through 2008 2015 and in each calendar year thereafter, the salary amounts under divisions (A)(1) and (3) of this section in the immediately preceding calendar year shall be increased by the lesser of the following:
(1) Three per cent;
(2) The percentage increase, if any, in the consumer price index over the twelve-month period that ends on the thirtieth day of September of the immediately preceding year, rounded to the nearest one-tenth of one per cent.

There are a couple of things to analyze in this tiny little section.

First, as the Ohio GOP is always so eager to talk about teachers getting paid for working “part-time” or “only 185 days per year”, let’s play that game, too.  And let’s be generous to them.  Even though, based on the House and Senate calendars, we can verify that the typical work week is only T-Th, let’s pretend that they actually work a full week.  Let’s also pretend that, because they have breaks at the holidays similar to schools, legislators work “only 185 days per year” (I said I’d be generous).  With the starting base salary of $60,583.70, that means the typical member is getting paid $327.48 per “normal” day of work regardless of their individual performance.

Also notice in section (5) above, an unexcused absence doesn’t cost the full day of pay, but only $20.  Not bad.  Does that mean that a legislator could play hooky for all 185 days of work and only be docked $3,700?  Heck, could they literally skip out on all 365 days in an entire year and only get docked $7,300?  And this is already in state law with no proposed change.  We can infer from this that any and all excused absences are paid.  Stebelton has proposed salary increases without any change to this small penalty for unexcused absences.  Not that Stebelton needs the pay, mind you, finding time to be a partner in his own law firm.

Next, in section (B), note that Stebelton has proposed that raises will occur annually based on either the consumer price index or 3%, whichever is lower.  In the past 20 years, the CPI as referenced in the law has only been below 0 one time, in 2009, and has been above 3% four times.  Factoring in those five occurrences, the annual raise for Ohio’s Representatives and Senators would be 2.135%, with them receiving raises in 19 out of 20 years, ranging from a low of 1% while hitting the cap of 3% on five separate occasions. This language all but guarantees annual raises every single year.

Finally, there are two other items that I simply have to share for all of the teacher-bashers out there.

First, from this same section of Ohio Revised Code (101.27) that the rest of these changes have come from and that has existed for years:

Such salaries shall be paid in equal monthly installments during such term. All monthly payments shall be made on or before the fifth day of each month.

That’s right, the members of Ohio’s General Assembly get paid all year long, but only work 7-8 months out of the year.  Sound familiar, educators? (For you non-educators, know that most school districts offer teachers a “stretch-pay” option which allows teachers to get their salary over 26 pays instead of the 21 that correspond to the school year.)

Second, what would Stebelton and his GOP peers have to say about a teachers union creating a salary schedule without input from the administration?  Would he think that was simply fine and dandy?

What would Ohio’s newspapers write if teachers independently voted on their own starting pay, politely excused each other for being absent, charged each other a nominal amount of $20 for the school social fund for all unexcused absences, and guaranteed themselves annual raises for the rest of their careers?

Perhaps the General Assembly will actually put something like this on a statewide ballot and “negotiate” with the public for their salaries.

Perhaps not.