Last week, two members of Ohio’s glass legislature threw a stone. Democratic Reps. Ronald Gerberry of suburban Youngstown and Nicholas Celebrezze of Parma introduced a bill to forbid Ohio’s statewide elected executive officers – they’re all Republicans, starting with Gov. John R. Kasich – to accept any outside compensation while in office except retirement or pension benefits.
The cue: The fact that Kasich received deferred compensation, after he was elected governor, for his pre-election board service at Worthington Industries Inc.
The Ohio Ethics Commission decided, in effect, that the deferred compensation isn’t an issue. That doesn’t matter to Democrats – because next year is an election year, and they want to unseat Kasich.
In a way, it’s hard to fault the bill’s sponsors. They simply followed today’s Democratic template in Columbus: Introduce bill; grab headline; go home; and forget about the bill – because everyone else will.
On average, only about 20 percent of all the bills introduced during a two-year General Assembly session become law. Most bills are like beads thrown at Mardi Gras: Cheap, but visible. In fact, the last time Democrats ran Ohio’s House, in 2009-10, under then-Speaker Armond Budish of Beachwood, the proportion Ohio House bills that reached then-Gov. Ted Strickland’s desk was just 5 percent.
Of course, the bill that surfaced last week would not forbid the 132 members of the General Assembly to accept outside pay. Heaven forfend: That would open a real can of worms.
The (supposed) reason Ohio General Assembly members can accept outside compensation is that, officially, their state jobs are part time.
But base pay for a state representative or senator Ohio is $60,584 – and many, perhaps most, are paid more because they’re awarded caucus leadership titles or given committee chairs by the House speaker or Senate president.
According to the Census, median household income in Ohio for 2007-2011, latest available, was $48,071. So General Assembly members get paid 20 percent more – not counting outside income – than the income mid-point of Ohio households. That’s sweet, even before counting tax-subsidized health benefits, which anti-Medicaid Statehouse “conservatives” happily accept.
Good Ohio legislators (and there are many) may deserve twice what they’re paid. But, as to legislative pay, the General Assembly has stretched the Ohio Constitution like a trampoline. The constitution says “members and officers of the General Assembly shall receive a fixed compensation, to be prescribed by law, and no other allowance or perquisites. …” As plain English, that’s clear as Saran wrap. But plain English isn’t the language of the Statehouse.
For example, compensation really isn’t fixed. It’s tiered, ranging the $60,584 base to $94,437 (for House speaker and Senate president). And committee chairs get annual supplements: $6,500 (most) or $10,000 (the Senate and House Finance). Speakers and presidents can yank chairmanships from feisty underlings. That, emphatically, isn’t “fixed compensation.” It’s a way to rule over a caucus. Such salary antics may be a taxpayer’s lawsuit begging to be filed.
When Democrats last ran the House, under Budish, they could have passed a bill like Gerberry and Celebrezze’s. They didn’t. Surely it’s a complete coincidence that, from 2007 through 2010, five of Ohio’s six statewide elected executive officers were Democrats: Strickland; Lt. Gov. Lee I. Fisher; Attorney General Marc Dann (then Richard Cordray); Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner; and State Treasurer Cordray (then Kevin Boyce).
Kasich and company are hardly candidates for canonization. Checks-and-balances require that Kasich, like every incumbent, get a vigorous re-election challenge. At the moment, though, Democrats seem to believe that the only difference between “politics” and “hypocrisy” is how those words are spelled.