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Ohio GOP lawmakers pushing anti-labor bill collecting perks, benefits they decry in unions

Image has not been found. URL: http://images.americanindependent.com/2010/08/DollarBillsThumb1.jpgTo hear Ohio House Speaker Bill Batchelder (R) tell it, he and his colleagues in the Ohio General Assembly are nearly in the poor house.

“I know a lot of people in my caucus who are frankly underpaid,” he said in June, after his caucus led the charge in ramming a bill through the Legislature that strips nearly all Ohio public employees of their collective bargaining rights.

But data compiled by Innovation Ohio shows Ohio lawmakers that supported Senate Bill 5 are hardly living on ramen noodles and taking the bus to work.

In fact, the 70 part-time state lawmakers that voted in favor of the measure receive an average annual salary of $67,737, not including all the other perks that come with the job.

By comparison, the teachers, firefighters and police officers they voted to strip of collective bargaining rights make annually about $50,000, $46,000 and $45,000, respectfully.

“We think that voters deserve to know these things. You have a governor and his legislative allies who are telling Ohioans that there have to be sacrifices because it’s necessary to save money,” said Dale Butland, communications director for Innovation Ohio. “And yet, they themselves have exempted themselves from the kind of sacrifices that they are asking everyone else to make.”

Led by Batchelder, Ohio House Republicans rejected an amendment to Gov. John Kasich’s budget bill that would have cut their salaries by five percent.

Had the amendment passed, legislators would have still received various “leadership bonuses,” ranging from $5,000 to $34,000.

In their war against Ohio’s public employees, Republican lawmakers have alleged the meager salaries and benefit packages offered to them are wreaking havoc on the state’s finances.

“Whether it’s automatic pay raises just for holding a job, generous retirement packages at little-to-no employee cost, excessive paid leave policies or unprecedented job protections, these perks of public employment are bankrupting our communities,” Sen. Shannon Jones (R) wrote on her Facebook page this month.

What Jones fails to mention, however, is the “excessive paid leave policies” and other perks state lawmakers are accustomed to receiving.

According to Innovation Ohio, state legislators have an unlimited amount of paid personal days, sick days and vacation time. Not only do they receive all the time off they want, they barely work. For the remainder of 2011, Republican leaders have just 13 days of in-session work scheduled. Another four days are scheduled on an “if-needed” basis.

“I earn my pay, and I’m not ashamed of what I make,” Rep. Louis Blessing (R) said hours before the vote on SB5.

When they actually do have to drive to work, they are compensated for their commute. Of the 70 lawmakers that voted for SB5, they receive an average of $3,361 per year for travel to the Statehouse. The vast majority of Ohio workers are prohibited from law from seeking mileage reimbursements.

Republicans legislators have also routinely attacked public employees for so-called “double-dipping,” in which they retire, collect a pension, and are rehired and continue to collect a regular paycheck at the same time.

But, according to Innovation Ohio, 12 of the 70 lawmakers that voted for SB5 are also double-dippers. Batchelder is among those lawmakers that collect a pension and a paycheck at the same time. He receives over $100,000 annually though the Ohio Public Employee Retirement System and collects an annual salary of $94,500.

“Politicians who support SB5 and Issue 2 don’t embarrass easily. They seem to be all for pay and benefit cuts as long as those cuts apply to police and firefighters and teachers and not to themselves,” said Butland, adding that Batchelder is the biggest double-dipper in the entire state. “They’re against double-dipping unless they are the ones doing the double-dipping.”

Curiously, the only current member of the Senate that does not receive such a bonus is Republican Bill Seitz, who, in an unprecedented move, was stripped of a committee assignment because he refused to support SB5. After he was removed from the Senate Insurance, Commerce and Labor Committee and replaced with an SB5 supporter, the bill passed the committee in a 7-5 vote.

While Ohio Republicans lawmakers may have been on the front lines of the battle over SB5, it has been Gov. Kasich that has led the vocal push in targeting public employees. He said his goal is to “break the back of organized labor in schools.” In addition, earlier this year, he called a police officer that pulled him over for speeding an “idiot.” (Read previous reporting by The American Independent on SB5′s potential impact on public safety workers.)

He claimed the union-busting legislation was necessary to get Ohio’s fiscal house in order, but he didn’t bother to look for any savings in his own office.

While other Ohio employees will receive raises based on merit under his legislation, Kasich would continue to receive annual three-percent pay increases on his salary of nearly $150,000.

The governor’s senior staff receives an average salary of over $110,000. His office’s total payroll is $5.4 million, an eight-percent increase over his predecessor.

The 27 members of the governor’s cabinet take home an average of $131,000 annually. They also receive $6,600 taxpayer-funded “car allowances.”

“It is absolutely hypocritical for the politicians who support Issue 2 to call for “shared sacrifices” when they aren’t willing to participate,” said Melissa Fazekas, a spokesperson for We Are Ohio, a citizen-driven, community-based, bipartisan coalition that has come together to repeal SB5. “While they were balancing the budget on the backs of public workers, they were also enjoying their perks and giving pay raises and bonuses to their highest paid staff members. This continued “do as I say, not as I do” attitude is exactly why Ohioans want to stop SB 5 by voting NO on Issue 2 on Nov. 8.”

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