- - Tuesday, November 18, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Election Day should have taught legislators everywhere the lesson that they must be more respectful to the men and women who pay the taxes, and to show a little respect for the dollars those men and women send to municipal, state and federal treasuries. The message seems to have got lost on the way to Ohio.

One Ohio legislator, a Republican named Gerald Stebelton of Lancaster, is using the lame-duck session of his legislature to sneak through a dramatic pay raise for nearly every officeholder in Ohio. Nice work if he can get it, and Mr. Stebelton obviously thinks he can get it if he tries.

Ohio once awarded automatic pay raises to officeholders from governor on down to county commissioners and members of the boards of election commissions, but the law expired in 2008. Mr. Stebelton has introduced a bill to bring back the automatic annual cost-of-living raises, based on the Consumer Price Index, and capped at 3 percent a year. The proposal, reports the Ohio news website IdeaStream, would increase judges’ salaries 5 percent and increase the paychecks of rural county and township officials to align them with salaries of their city counterparts.

Mr. Stebelton wants judicial pay attractive to lawyers who want to be judges. The relatively low pay earned by Ohio’s state and local judges, he says, discourages lawyers who would make the best adjudicators from aspiring to be judges.

He may have a point. Ohio’s judicial officers, including those of the Supreme Court, appellate courts and trial courts, rank in the bottom 20 percent in pay nationwide. If judicial pay were Mr. Stebelton’s real concern, however, he could have written legislation to raise judges’ pay, and leave the pay of other elected officials alone. Instead, his proposal is a deceptive and fiscally irresponsible way to give raises to public officials, including those who are paid very well already. Mr. Stebelton’s term expires this year and he wouldn’t benefit from his pay increases, but many of his friends in the Ohio legislature would.



A case can be made for paying Ohio judges more, but not legislators. Only five states — California, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan and Illinois — pay their legislators more. Backbenchers in the state House and Senate earn nearly $61,000 annually. The speaker of the House, the Senate president and the minority leaders in each chamber are paid $86,165 a year. Ohio spends $8.1 million a year on legislative salaries for part-time jobs.

While Mr. Stebelton is selling his proposal as something moderate, it isn’t. Over the course of the next decade, if the annual cost-of-living adjustment for legislative salaries is 3 percent a year, Mr. Stebelton’s bill would cost $14.3 million. That’s insignificant only to those who are not spending their own money.

The Ohio legislature recently raised its state income tax, so asking taxpayers to pay its well-paid state officials more shows a certain contempt for the ordinary citizens struggling to make ends meet. Those ordinary citizens clearly agree. In an online poll conducted by the Cleveland Plain Dealer, only 22 percent of those polled think the raises are justified.

To demonstrate their respect for the people and to show concern for how their taxes are spent, Mr. Stebelton’s legislative colleagues should quickly dispatch his 11th-hour attempt to the trash. If judges are underpaid, the legislature could correct that with straightforward legislation. Grubbing a raise for everybody else is a sneak attack on the public, and unworthy of a legislature. The Ohio pay grab should be a warning to state capitals everywhere.

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