COLUMBUS – Gov. John Kasich on Friday vetoed a bill that would extend increase benefits for deceased first responders' families because it included pay raises for lawmakers and other elected officials.
The pay raises, the first in 10 years, were added late in the session to Senate Bill 296. The bill would increase benefits for widows and children of deceased police officers and firefighters.
“Nobody likes pay raises," Kasich told reporters during a luncheon Dec. 13. "It would be one thing if they did it in the light of day, but it’s another thing if you do it and just kind of sneak it through. I don’t think people like that.”
In a veto message, Kasich said he supported the increased benefits for first responders and urged lawmakers to pass them again next year, when Mike DeWine is governor.
"I would have signed such a bill into law," Kasich wrote. "Unfortunately, I cannot support or condone the last-minute rush to include a controversial pay raise for elected officials into what was an otherwise commendable bill."
If lawmakers think it's necessary to increase pay for state and local officials, Kasich wrote, then they should introduce them in a standalone bill and debate them publicly.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark, suggested the governor vetoed the bill because he angry lawmakers did not pass some of his priority bills, including "red flag" legislation that would take guns away from individuals at risk of hurting themselves or others.
Hottinger said he hopes the General Assembly has the votes to override the veto.
"What I find ironic is there have been a heck of a lot of lawmakers doing work while he has been gallivanting around the country and missing in action," Hottinger told The Enquirer, referring to Kasich's failed 2016 presidential run.
Lawmakers plan to return to Columbus on Dec. 27 to vote on any vetoed bills.
When a police officer or firefighter dies in the line of duty, surviving family members receive full benefits until the deceased would have retired. Ohio law sets that as after 25 years of service or until the officer would have been 48 years old.
Senate Bill 296 would increase benefits, extend benefits to 33 years or service or until the deceased officer would have been 70 years old and allow survivors to apply for state health insurance.
Pay raises for various elected officials were added to the bill in its last stages. Base pay for an Ohio lawmaker is $60,584, but legislators can earn more for serving in leadership positions and leading committees. Senate Bill 296 would increase base pay to $63,007 in 2019 and $76,208 by 2028.
The bill would also increase pay for the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state and auditor.Judges, prosecutors, sheriffs, township officials and county officials would also get a pay raise, between 1.75 and 5 percent each year over the next 10 years.
The bill also created an “InnovateOhio” office within the governor’s office – a possible landing spot for Lt. Gov.-elect Jon Husted. The new position would pay $176,426 a year plus benefits.
Supporters of the survivor benefit bill worried the pay raise addition would tank the bill.
“We have survivors who are losing health care on the end of the year,” said Mike Weinman, lobbyist for the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio.
Weinman hopes that lawmakers will override the veto as soon as possible.
Reporter Jessie Balmert contributed to this report