The duplicity and shamelessness of the Ohio legislature was on full display Thursday as two bills addressing hiking pay for lawmakers and other elected public officials now and into the future, described as competing with each other, moved from one chamber to the other.
Despite being framed as competing measures, HB 661 would further feather officials’ income nests with more taxpayer money now, while the Senate bill would delay by deferring that feathering to a commission, advertised as independent, that would be populated with appointees by the governor as well as legislative and judicial leaders. Called a pay raise “adjustment,” HB661 moved out of the House to the Senate as the lame duck legislature again stops working until a new one convenes early next year.
It’s not fair or fun to watch one entitled political class eat their cake now and then eat everyone else’s cake later, then claim there’s no more cake left to share. But that’s the phoney baloney gamesmanship afoot in Columbus as legislators try to finagle a public relations campaign that gives them more money now and into the future, all at taxpayer expense. Much harder working workers will try to stay afloat because Gov. John Kasich hasn’t been able to come close to national average job creation for two straight years.
On Friday, President Obama announced that the private sector has added 10.9 million jobs over 57 straight months of job growth, extending the longest streak on record. Jobs statistics offered by the White House show that total nonfarm employment rose 321,000 in November, mainly reflecting a 314,000 increase in private employment.
Simultaneously, Ohio’s unofficial but undisputed chief keeper of the jobs scoreboard notes that Ohio has extended a new streak of five consecutive weeks with job destruction level of new unemployment claims that is currently elevated. Cleveland based jobs guru, George Zeller, told OhioNewsBureau via email, “The fresh deterioration in this week’s Ohio new unemployment claims is a potentially unfavorable leading indicator in advance of new Ohio job data for November 2014 scheduled for release on December 19 that will measure whether Ohio’s continually below average recovery is finally improving to national norms.”
HB 661’s sponsor, Rep. Stebelton, a term-limited Republican from Lancaster, said in a statement Friday following the bill winning support on the House floor, “This bill is the result of hard work and discussion by all involved, on both sides of the aisle. This is the right time to enact this legislation and it’s the right solution for our local publicly elected officials and judges.”
In the Ohio Senate, SJR No.8 is a proposal to create an independent commission that would decide pay levels for elected public officials won full approval in the Ohio Senate Thursday. Meanwhile, a bill that uses the existing authority given to legislators to set pay won in committee on a party line vote. Both legislative chambers continue to be controlled by wide margins by Republicans who took control of the Senate in 1984 and the House in 1994, and have only relinquished control of the House for a short two-year period from 2008-2010.
Ohio loves government even though officials regularly rail against its size, scope and cost. Should either of these bills become law, however, about 20,000 or so officials would benefit from cost-of-living adjustments proponents argue have not happened since 2008. The Senate resolution or the pay-us-later approach is sponsored by Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican who has been a faithful wingman to Gov. Kasich, whose job he likely covets come 2018. Faber’s resolution would leave compensation decisions to a nine-member board appointed by the governor, legislative leaders and chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. Faber told a Senate panel that 17 states have similar commissions, the AP reported. “Such an objective review process takes the issue out of the hands of politicians, allowing a much more fair and transparent process,” Faber said Thursday. Voters would decide next May whether to approve the idea should it pass this month.
Of course, the very people appointed to the commission are the same politicos who stand to benefit even though they routinely deny pay raises to others, including public service workers, by cutting local budgets and forcing local governments to raise revenue to pay for continued services. So calling them independent is an argument that only works on paper because these appointees will do right by their professional class.
Making that point, President Faber answered a question on voters not approving it by stating he believed elected officials and others would strongly advocate for it. “If it doesn’t pass, I think that’s a pretty powerful message that the voters are concerned about giving pay raises.”
At the same time in the House, Rep. Gerald Stebelton’s proposal, HB661, would give cost-of-living increases to statewide officeholders and legislators starting in 2017. Judges would get a 5 percent increase annually for four years beginning in 2015, then cost-of-living adjustments until 2023. An advisory panel would then be set up to make pay recommendations, according to reports.
The time tested argument that raises are needed to retain and attract professionals to elected positions in government was resurrected again. Powerful House Finance Chairman Ron Amstutz is for it, arguing that it was well-researched and had broad support among local government stakeholder groups. “Anyone who wants to make the decision for good, even-handed governance would probably be a yes vote on this bill,” he said, the AP reported.
Statehouse duplicity came into view when Mike Foley, a Cleveland Democrat, said he worries that this is a potentially trap vote. “We’ve got members who could vote for this if it were a real thing. I’m concerned that this is not a real thing, because the Senate is not going to take this thing up.” Cincinnati House Member Alicia Reece voted against the bill based on pay raises for prosecutors, of which there are thousands, at a time when the relationship between law enforcement and constituents in her urban district are troubled. Former GOP State Senator Tim Grendell, a Geauga County probate judge, testified that Ohio falls way behind the majority of states with judicial pay. Grendell told committee members to consider the House bill as a way to provide immediate relief to judges, while looking to Faber’s idea as a potential long-term plan. Judge Grendell argued the two proposals should not cancel each other out.
Lawmakers love their coveted positions as they become term-limited in one chamber then run for the other and then back again. It’s no secret that Ohio has one of the longest legislative sessions in the nation along with Wisconsin, that lobbyists are so bountiful that only New York and Florida have more, and that the Buckeye State is generally known as a pay-to-play political playground. Gov. Kasich’s insider group has claimed lucrative lobbying contracts as a demonstration of just how corrupt, some would say, government has become. To give the political class a free pass to more taxpayer funded income, retirement benefits and health care at a time when the income rug has been pulled from under the feet of local governments and schools is indeed a slap in the face of Ohioans who struggle to put a roof over their head and food on the table, while being asked to pay more at the local level because greedy state leaders have confiscated revenue sharing in order to amass a mountain of cash to dole back to the wealthiest in income tax cuts.
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