Ohio's state, county and township elected officials haven't had a pay raise since the start of 2008, and it's a long shot that they're going to get one anytime soon. While there has been talk in this lame-duck legislative session of enacting pay raises for those state and local officials - including judges, whose salaries are set by state law - the idea appears to be getting a cool reception from House and Senate leaders.
Ohio’s state, county and township elected officials haven’t had a pay raise since the start of 2008, and it’s a long shot that they’re going to get one anytime soon.
While there has been talk in this lame-duck legislative session of enacting pay raises for those state and local officials — including judges, whose salaries are set by state law — the idea appears to be getting a cool reception from House and Senate leaders.
But Sen. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, said he has spoken to members in both parties in both chambers, and he’s not giving up on seeing the bill move this week, likely the final days of House and Senate sessions this year.
The legislature last passed such a bill in 2000, enacting pay raises for the next eight years equal to the consumer price index or 3 percent, whichever was lower. In recent years, compensation proposals have focused more on largely symbolic pay cuts for state lawmakers as Ohio suffered through a deep national recession.
Seitz has proposed a cost-of-living increase similar to the last one, though this one would last four years, starting in 2014. It would take effect, he said, only if lawmakers next year approve a new two-year budget that includes money for the state’s portion of the bill — judges and lawmakers.
“This is the price you pay to get qualified people to do consequential things,” said Seitz, who has pushed the past few years to get raises for judges. He said other county officials have worked to defeat those proposals because they were not included.
“Study after study has shown that our judges, compared to other similar states’, are being woefully underpaid,” he said.
The average common pleas judge in the United States earned $137,000 in 2011, nearly $16,000 more than Ohio judges, the National Center for State Courts says. Ohio’s Supreme Court pay ranks 33rd in the nation, and appeals court pay ranks 30th.
If lawmakers do not act by this week, it will take four more years for many current elected officials to see any increase because, outside of judges, the Constitution does not permit them to get a pay raise during their current term.
“If the legislature doesn’t take action (this) week, then these officials will go potentially eight years without a salary adjustment,” said Cheryl Subler of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. “We’re talking about a cost-of-living adjustment and not a substantial salary increase.”
Pay raises are always a touchy subject for state lawmakers, regardless of the justification. Most see little political benefit, and they worry about being attacked for such votes in future campaign ads.
Seitz said he is struggling to secure support because neither the House nor Senate wants to go first, and — though both are under Republican control — they do not communicate well with each other. He said he has not seen evidence that lawmakers pay a political price for supporting raises.
Senate President Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, said that, considering how long it has been, raises are appropriate to discuss. He said he has received emails from local elected officials and judges asking for a cost-of-living increase.
“But I’m very mindful of the fact that there are still many people in Ohio who are unemployed and would love to have any job, and many others have not seen increases in many years,” Niehaus said. “I don’t think our elected officials, whether they be at the state or local level, are in any different situation than the people we represent.”
Ohio lawmakers receive a base salary of $60,584, though most earn more through committee and caucus leadership stipends. “I do not know of any member of the legislature who took this job for the pay,” Niehaus said.
Seitz pointed to his day on Friday, which included a drive back and forth from Cincinnati to give a speech in Columbus, leaving him one hour to work in his law office.
“You are debilitated from practicing your profession because of this job,” he said. “It’s difficult to find people so dedicated to the cause for about $60,000 a year.”
House Speaker William G. Batchelder, R-Medina, engaged his caucus last week on the issue of pay raises, and he said the GOP members had some “grave reservations” about moving forward on it at this time, said spokesman Mike Dittoe.