Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Ohio Senate: Life on the lifeless track

I SELDOM WRITE about the Ohio legislature. I have found the place to be a bore. I know. Those senators and house members in Columbus shape our daily lives, from taxes to such diversions as slot machines. For their part-time labors they are well paid and receive other benefits that those of us back home seldom see. On many days they predictably sit around doing nothing at all.

As Plain Dealer columnist Tom Suddes rudely pointed out on Sunday, ignoring the minor courtesies you might expect for the near-unemployed, of the 219 bills introduced in the Republican-controlled Senate, only three made their way to the governor. And as Suddes, a veteran of seizing indolent politicians by the neck, also pointed out, they did give a hint of exhalation by forwarding to Gov. Strickland a measure to create an 18-member War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission, an event still three years away. Bless 'em! It was bipartisan. That will give them a little something to write home about when the next check arrives in their $60,584 a year payday.

Meantime, the sedentary senators don't seem to be in a hurry in plugging up a desperately current $850 million hole in the state budget, creating an aching impasse that is stalled on the issue of whether to delay a tax cut for Ohioans. You'd think they are trying to resolve the issues in Cornelius Vanderbilt's will. A foolish Ohio tax cut should be a no-brainer for the GOPers to go along with Democrats who insist it would further deepen the state's budgetary woes. But Republicans are genetically wedded to such dumb considerations. And who knows? Since they are term-limited, some may even move on to Congress to advance their troubled concepts of tax math.

All of this led Beacon Journal Statehouse columnist Dennis Willard to report that there is still a lot of gravy in doing next to nothing down in Columbus. In addition to the lawmakers' base salary for a few days a week, they are entitled to huge tax deductions by various self-serving devices amounting to the efforts of living ghosts. Legislators not only get tax breaks for days they are in session but also for those in-between idle days if the legislature adjourns for four or fewer days. They also qualify for deductions on holidays and weekends.

Willard figures it's possible for a state senator to reap $55,144 in tax deductions if he or she lives outside of Columbus. That would make the tax burden akin to that of the underemployed. Depreciation will likely come next.

None of this accounting might have surfaced if the Senate had been doing what it's paid to do.
It seldom does.

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