State Rep. Michele Lepore- Hagan of Youngstown was absolutely justified in her condemnation of her colleagues in the General Assembly for the game they played to boost the wages of lawmakers, the governor and other elected officials.
“It’s disgusting to use families of law enforcement killed in the line of duty as a vehicle for pay raises,” Lepore-Hagan, D-58th, said of the shameful decision by the Republican leadership in the General Assembly to include the pay hikes in a bill designed to increase death benefits for first responders killed on the job.
But what’s even more disgusting about the legislative sleight-of-hand in the waning days of the session was the dismissive attitude of then House Speaker Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell.
According to published reports, Smith said he wasn’t concerned about the criticism because it made sense to add the pay increase as an amendment to a bill that dealt with benefits.
“This is not some exotic thing that we’re going off the rails on. We’re talking about modest increases for local government officials who work hard everyday and everybody else; it’s not outlandish by any means,” Smith said.
But that wasn’t how Republican Gov. John Kasich saw it. Kasich, who will be leaving office this month because of term limits, referred to the measure as “this grubby pay bill.”
The measure originated in the Senate dealing with death benefits for first responders, but was amended in the House to include the pay raises for lawmakers and other elected officials. The amended version passed the House on a 68-20 vote and the Senate, which agreed to the House changes, 26-5.
But Gov. Kasich vetoed the measure because of the shenanigans by Republican leaders in the General Assembly.
Kasich, who described the original intent of SB 296 as “praiseworthy,” said he could not condone or support the “last-minute rush to include a controversial pay raise for elected officials into what was an otherwise commendable bill.”
But undaunted by such criticism, the GOP-controlled Senate and House overrode the governor’s veto.
Widows and children
Thus, while widows and children of police and firefighters killed in the line of duty will receive increased health-care benefits, a slew of elected officials will be paying tribute to the fallen by fattening their wallets.
Lawmakers will receive a 4 percent pay increase in 2020, 3 percent in 2021 and 1.75 percent each year between 2022 and 2028. Their current base pay of $60,584 would increase to $73,167, according to the Dayton Daily News.
Stipends for leadership and committee chairmanship posts would also be increased, the News reported.
The wages for governor, lieutenant governor, other statewide officers, judges and justices of the state supreme court, county and township officers are also going up.
Judges, sheriffs and prosecutors would be in line for 1.75 percent pay increases each year from 2020 to 2028; other county officeholders would receive 5 percent raises in 2019 and 2020, followed by 1.75 percent increases from 2021 to 2028; township officers and board of election members would receive 1.75 percent each year from 2019 to 2028.
There was a bone of sorts tossed out to critics of this legislative boondoggle: A nine-member pay advisory committee will annually review public official pay issues.
It remains to be seen just how committed Ohio’s lawmakers are to letting taxpayers know how their money is being spent.
For instance, will the committee have the freedom to conduct public hearings across the state to determine if the shroud over the public pension system should be lifted?
For years, we have railed against the secrecy surrounding the retirement records of public employees.
Even though more than $4 billion annually in public funds goes toward state and local government pensions, taxpayers are barred from knowing how much individual public retirees receive.
We also cannot find out how much the employers (the taxpayers) and the employee paid toward his or her pension, how many years the retiree worked, or, in some cases, who’s receiving the pension benefit.
State law prevents Ohio’s five public pension systems from disclosing many details about individual retirees.
But here’s the rub: It isn’t just the public employee who contributes to his or her pension fund. We, the people, also pay to ensure that public-sector retirees enjoy a comfortable life after work.
It’s time to blow the lid off the public pension system in Ohio. But hell will freeze over before transparency becomes the watchword.