Ohio lawmakers put pay increase for elected officials into survivor benefits bill


By Jim Siegel - The Columbus Dispatch



COLUMBUS — A proposal to provide pay raises to state, county and township officials, giving some their first pay increase in a decade, was amended Wednesday into a bill dealing with survivor benefits for police and firefighters.

But law enforcement is not pleased that House Republicans are using a bill aimed at helping their families and those of firefighters to play a game of chicken with Gov. John Kasich, who opposes the idea and may veto the bill.

“We are concerned that this will be a poison pill,” said Mike Weinman, legislative director for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.

Linda Pope of Cincinnati, whose husband, Cincinnati Officer Daniel Pope, was shot and killed in 1998 while serving a domestic violence warrant, said she’s been working on the bill for seven years.

“For us to be this close and for them to do that to us, it’s very heartbreaking,” she said of the pay raise amendment. The bill extending benefits “is our livelihood. It is our future. It is for future officers and their families. It just needs to be done.”

The amendment also would need Senate support, and while majority leaders generally support a pay raise bill, the provision may instead go into a different bill.

“I am supportive of a modest, fair compensation package for elected officials as it has been a decade since many have seen any adjustments,” said Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, a prime sponsor of the survivor benefits bill. “The Senate will be in discussions and deliberations as to if this is the best and proper place to seek such changes.”

Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, who has been pushing for years to increase the pay of state officeholders, who last got a raise in 2008, said the proposal would increase the base salary of lawmakers and statewide officeholders by 3 percent, 3 percent and then 4 percent over the next three years. They would then get 1.75 percent increase for six years after.

That would increase the base pay for lawmakers from $60,584 this year to $67,493 by 2021, and then to $76,208 by 2028.

Lawmakers in 2015 granted pay raises over four years to county judges, prosecutors and sheriffs. The latest proposal would increase their pay through the next nine years at 1.75 percent per year. For other countywide officeholders, who got two years of pay raises in 2015, they would get 5 percent raises for each of the next two years, and then 1.75 percent for through 2028.

Township officials and election board officials would get 1.75 percent increases through 2028.

The proposal, Seitz said, also would establish an advisory pay commission that can recommend the 1.75 rate be adjusted, based on changes in inflation over the years.

The base legislative salary in Ohio is higher than at least 40 other states — though unlike most states, legislators here do not receive a per diem on top of their salaries. For example, a Wisconsin senator earns a base $50,950 but also can easily earn over $10,000 in per diem payments.

As in many states, the job of an Ohio lawmaker is considered part-time. A number of lawmakers hold private sector jobs that pay them in excess of $25,000 per year, though the hours and work of a state official can vary depending on the time of year, committee assignments, and just how active a member is in his or her district.

The proposal was attached to Senate Bill 296, designed to ensure the families of law enforcement officers and firefighters who died in the line of duty can collect 100 percent of benefits for longer than current law allows and help them with health insurance.

When he was Senate President in 2014, now-Rep. Keith Faber, R-Celina, who takes over as state auditor in January, tried to create a compensation commission to give lawmakers a more passive role in the pay raise process. It would have allowed them to reject a recommendation for raises, or let it take effect without a vote. The House at the time declined to go along.

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By Jim Siegel

The Columbus Dispatch

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