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Published: Friday, 1/7/2011

Kasich releases Cabinet salary proposal

COLUMBUS -- Several of incoming Republican Gov. John Kasich's top aides will be paid significantly more than their predecessors under Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland, even though Mr. Kasich has promised to rein in the salaries and benefits of unionized state workers.

Preliminary numbers submitted by the Kasich team to the state Office of Budget Management show that the new governor's chief of staff, Beth Hansen, will be paid $170,000 in salary, 38 percent more than the $122,990 that Mr. Strickland's chief of staff, John Haseley, has been paid. Ms. Hansen served as Mr. Kasich's campaign manager.

The new communications director, Scott Milburn, who worked on Mr. Kasich's campaign and previously served as press secretary to GOP Gov. Bob Taft, would be paid $120,000, 35 percent more than the $89,003 that the current communications director receives.

And in a new position, Jai Chabria, Mr. Kasich's former office partner with Lehman Brothers in Columbus and another campaign aide, will be paid $145,000 before fringe benefits as special assistant to the governor.

Mr. Kasich's pay will be $141,708.

The figures faced criticism because Mr. Kasich is expected to champion cuts in the next budget and has vowed to seek reforms in public employee payroll and benefits.

"It's my understanding that our total spending will be under the current administration [numbers]," Mr. Kasich said Thursday. "... But let me just talk about the other side of this. We are fortunate that we are getting a lot of good people to come in.

"Salary is an issue," he said. "... What we're trying to do is call people to service. I think so far we've had good success in being able to get people to come out of the private sector. You have to understand … that there isn't a lot of money in this."

Counting fringe benefits, the total salaries for the draft payroll for the governor's office submitted to the Office of Budget Management by Mr. Kasich was $5.9 million, down from nearly $6.3 million this year under Mr. Strickland. The salary numbers of the governors themselves were not included in the comparisons.

The overall cost savings results in part from the Kasich draft having fewer total positions, 69 compared to 77 under Mr. Strickland. A number of positions have been combined under the Kasich plan.

Many of the Kasich positions remain unfilled, but their salaries were included in the draft. Like Ms. Hansen, Mr. Milburn, and Mr. Chabria, a number are high-ranking holdovers from the Kasich campaign.

"It sends a mixed message at best and a hypocritical one at worst," Ohio AFL-CIO President Joe Rugola said. "... It's interesting that he makes that kind of a decision when he is part of a national right-wing movement to criticize public workers at every level who are on the front lines making moderate salaries. We're very concerned about it.

"In the end, I think the governor is trying to deliver the message that his public workers are worth those kinds of salaries," he said. "We're going to argue that the folks who make $24,000, or $46,000, or $61,000 teaching our children and are on the front lines are worth the kind of salaries they're getting paid."

Mr. Kasich said his administration will release further information on Monday, the day he takes office. He will take over government at a time when the state is looking at a potential revenue shortfall in the area of $8 billion in the next two-year budget that must be in place by July 1.

The Kasich projections show that Laura Johnson, who will serve as new Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor's chief of staff, will be paid $120,000. Current Lt. Gov. Lee Fisher's chief, Erin White, received $80,018.

And Rob Nichols, the incoming press secretary, will be paid $90,000 compared to his Strickland predecessor, Amanda Wurst, at $69,992.

Wayne Struble, a long-time aide from Mr. Kasich's congressional days, will be paid $120,000 a year as policy director, a position that has no direct equivalent within the Strickland administration.

The projected salary figures were released as Mr. Strickland's office released preliminary numbers showing that Ohio tax collections finished the halfway point of the fiscal year at nearly $294 million, or 3.7 percent, ahead of projections.

If that trend continues, the administration projects that total tax revenue will come in about $400 million ahead of projections by the time the fiscal year ends on June 30.

This, it said, would exceed the legal requirement of having an unobligated year-end fund balance of 0.5 percent and could allow the state to begin replenishing its budgetary reserves or partially pay the final bills due for the Medicaid and mental health providers, and state university and colleges that were pushed from this fiscal year into the next.

The projected revenue shortfall in the next budget results largely from the heavy use of federal stimulus dollars and other one-time funds to balance the current budget.

In other action, Mr. Kasich announced that a former Toledo man will be a rare Cabinet holdover from the Strickland administration.

John Martin, a former long-time executive director of Sunshine Inc. of Northwest Ohio, will stay on as director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities.

Mr. Martin, 58, who now lives in Columbus, considers himself a Democrat-turned-Independent. The father of a 26-year-old son with severe disabilities, he previously directed the Monclova Township-based, nonprofit group known as the Sunshine Children's Home affiliated with the Mennonite Church.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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