Julie Carr Smyth
COLUMBUS: Amid pledges to slash government spending, Ohio's next governor is preparing to pay some of his top aides significantly more than current Gov. Ted Strickland has paid his.
Gov.-elect John Kasich defended the higher salaries for his chief of staff, communications director, press secretary and others on Thursday after they were made public on the political blog Plunderbund. Preliminary figures were released later Thursday to The Associated Press through a public records request.
Kasich, a Republican, plans to pay chief of staff Beth Hansen just over $170,000 a year. That's about $47,000 more per year than Strickland chief of staff John Haseley has made, and about what President Barack Obama plans to pay the new White House chief of staff he named Thursday, veteran political manager William Daley.
New communications director Scott Milburn is slated to earn $130,000 a year, compared to $89,000 for Strickland counterpart Keith Dailey. Press secretary Rob Nichols would be paid $90,000, transition documents show — $20,000 a year more than Strickland press secretary Amanda Wurst.
Nichols said the final salary figures were still being worked out. He said Kasich expects to release the final figures Monday, the day he's inaugurated.
The new governor prides himself on being able to negotiate a balanced federal budget agreement as U.S. House budget chairman in the 1990s and campaigned on a theme of reducing the size of state government.
Ohio faces an historic state budget deficit of $8 billion as Kasich prepares to assume office Monday and he has made clear that painful cuts are ahead.
Kasich said Thursday that he expects total governor's office spending to be under that of the current administration, despite the higher salaries of some aides.
''We're fortunate that we're getting a lot of good people to come in,'' he said. ''Salary is an issue.''
Kasich said some job candidates have more attractive offers in the private sector.
''What we're trying to do is to make sure we pay people based on the position, but just because somebody paid somebody X doesn't mean we're going to pay them X,'' he said.