Politicians Get Late Presents

Two days after Christmas, many of us probably were still examining some of the gifts we received. Perhaps we were exchanging some at stores.

Members of the Ohio General Assembly were in Columbus on Dec. 27, giving themselves a late Christmas present.

Late last year, Buckeye State lawmakers finally approved a measure they should have enacted years ago. It increases death benefits for the survivors of firefighters and law enforcement personnel. Senate Bill 296 was the vehicle for the improvements.

It passed both houses of the General Assembly easily — because legislators tacked onto the bill something unrelated to its stated purpose: pay raises for themselves, along with many other state and local-level officials.

Gov. John Kasich vetoed the bill. He pointed out the sneak-attack nature of the pay raises, saying they should have been discussed openly. Many Ohioans were not even aware the bill included salary boosts for politicians.

No problem, really. It would have taken minutes, literally, for the new General Assembly to correct the problem after members elected in November take office this month. Simply take SB 296, cross out the language on pay raises, and reintroduce the measure as a new bill. No doubt Gov.-elect Mike DeWine would have signed it.

Then, out in the open, legislators could have talked about pay raises as a separate action.

That would have been the right thing to do.

After stewing over Kasich’s veto for a few days, legislators joined the rest of us in enjoying Christmas, then hurried back to Columbus. There, on the same day, both the state Senate and House of Representatives voted to override the governor’s veto. The vote was 71-16 in the House, 25-6 in the Senate.

State Sen. Frank Hoagland, R-Mingo Junction, who represents East Ohio District 30, voted in favor of the override. So did state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, from local House District 96. State Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, who represents part of this area (District 95), voted against the measure. Unfortunately, Thompson is leaving the General Assembly, because of term limits.

Some lawmakers attempted to justify their votes by pointing to the benefits for survivors of fallen firefighters and law enforcement officers and deputies. Come on, now. Again, that concern could have been taken care of in minutes — without including the pay raises.

It appears some legislators have at least something like consciences, however. According to a report by the Tribune Chronicle of Warren, two lawmakers don’t plan to accept the raises for which they voted. They are state Reps. Michael J. O’Brien, D-Warren; and Glenn Holmes, D-McDonald. Both said they will give proceeds from their pay raises to worthy causes. Both cited concern over combining raises with benefits for public safety personnel survivors. Still, they voted for SB 296.

What lawmakers who sneaked the bill through (twice, counting the override) understand is that most voters will never even know about it. They hope those upset now will forget about it by the time the next election rolls around.

On the other hand, the many state and local officials who are getting raises will not forget what the General Assembly did for them. That’s important particularly at the local level, where whatever political machines that exist rely largely on county officials. SB 296 provides 5 percent raises this year for county commissioners, auditors, clerks of court, coroners, engineers, recorders and treasurers.

Courtesy of pay raises enacted in 2015, many of the commissioners already were paid well for part-time jobs. Pay levels in 2018, set according to county populations, ranged from $48,974 to $101,957 a year.

Commissioners and other county-level officials will remember that when incumbent lawmakers ask for help in 2020.

Didn’t get everything you requested for Christmas? That’s too bad.

Politicians in Ohio did.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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