Tomorrow is Election Day in Ohio, and the hoo-hah about Issue 2 finally will end. Unless there has been catastrophic polling failure — or Ohioans have been misleading pollsters for chuckles and giggles — Issue 2 will be defeated and the old collective bargaining rules applicable to public employees will be reinstituted.
Both sides have poured huge sums into the Issue 2 campaign, and anyone who regularly watches the news has seen more Issue 2-related ads than they care to remember. The ads haven’t exactly been objective treatments of the relevant issues, either. We had some friends in from out of town over the weekend, and after seeing countless Issue 2 commercials they were totally mystified about what Issue 2 was. The only thing they knew for sure was that a yes vote or a no vote would effectively mean the end of civilization as we know it.
Whichever way tomorrow’s election goes, I suspect we haven’t seen the last of public employee-related initiatives on the Ohio ballot. Those who want to cut government spending naturally are going to want to focus on public employee salaries, benefits, and jobs — and this election has shown that public-sector unions won’t be shy about mounting petition drives and spending significant sums to protect those salaries, benefits, and jobs.
It seems like every day brings a new story about how states across the country are struggling with public employee pension and health care benefit costs. In Ohio the issue is at the forefront due to the upcoming vote on Issue 2, and I’ve written about the huge challenges confronting Rhode Island and Illinois.
Now California — which may have the biggest problem of all — is trying to work through the issues. On Thursday Governor Jerry Brown declared California’s current system unsustainable and unveiled an approach that tries to deal with the inevitable effects of demographics. Brown, a Democrat, proposes raising the retirement age for most government workers from 55 to 67, increasing employee contributions to 50 percent of pension costs, and moving the state’s system from a complete defined benefits program to one that includes a 401(k) component, where employee benefits depend on their contributions and the performance of investments they have selected. He also proposes reforms to ensure that pensions are based on regular salaries, not on bonuses or overtime. Public employee unions have been critical, arguing that they have recently given concessions and that any changes to benefits should be the product of collective bargaining.
From sea to shining sea, the handwriting is on the wall: states and local governments eventually must grapple with meaningful reforms to budget-busting public employee pension and benefit costs. The Ohio General Assembly attempted to do that with the legislation that is the subject of Issue 2. If Ohio voters reject Issue 2 come Election Day, the issue is not going to go away. Why not tackle it now?
According to the latest Quinnipiac poll, Ohio’s Issue 2 — the issue that addresses collective bargaining and pension and health care benefits for public employees, among other matters — will get trounced at the polls. Nevertheless, we are still getting blitzed by fliers and ads about Issue 2, so the campaigns apparently still think the outcome is in doubt.
One of the anti-Issue 2 mailings features a fresh-faced young teacher named Kyley Richardson of the Continental Local Schools. She says “Issue 2 takes my voice out of my classroom.” The mailing explains that “Issue 2 takes away the voice of teachers to negotiate for things that keep our students safe and successful — like smaller class sizes, up-to-date textbooks and safe classrooms.” It also says that Issue 2 “could force teachers to do even more standardized testing” and “could mean more teacher layoffs.”
According to the school website, Ms. Richardson teaches Spanish at the Continental Middle School. Continental is a small town in rural northwest Ohio. Its website says it is a “very stable community” made up principally of farm families “with excellent work ethics.” It has a population of about 1,100. Given these circumstances, how often do you think Ms. Richardson, or any Continental teacher, has had to engage in hard-fought negotiations about class size or safe classrooms? And if Issue 2 passed, do we really think that Ms. Richardson would be “silenced” — or do we think she could go to the next Board of Education meeting and they would listen respectfully to whatever she might say about “textbooks,” “standardized tests,” and “teacher layoffs”?
With all due respect, Ms. Richardson’s views about what Issue 2 “could” do don’t have a lot of credibility with me. I remain convinced that most public employees oppose the measure because they know it will affect their pay and benefits, and not because of these other issues. Why don’t they just come out and say it?
If you eat enough turkey over the holidays you can get a condition called “turkey fatigue.” In Ohio, I’m working on a serious case of referendum fatigue.
In November, Ohioans will vote on three “issues.” I’ve written about Issue 2; UJ has discussed his position on the issues here. Ohio Democrats, miffed about how majority Republicans drew congressional districts, also want a referendum on that law. An anti-abortion group wants to amend the Ohio Constitution to define “personhood.” In recent elections, the Constitution has been amended on several occasions, including to allow casino gambling. It’s getting so that you can’t walk to the library without someone asking you to sign a petition for another statewide vote.
In Ohio, it’s not hard to get an issue on the ballot. For a referendum — an action to challenge a new law — you need an initial petition signed by 1,000 registered voters and then a petition signed by six percent of the total vote cast for governor in the last election, with signatures obtained from 44 of the 88 Ohio counties that equal three percent of the votes cast for governor from those counties. The Columbus Dispatch, in a story about the “Personhood Amendment,” said 385,000 signatures would be needed to put it on the ballot. That sounds like a lot, but it is only a small fraction of the 11.5 million people who live in the Buckeye State, and is not a huge challenge for a well-funded, single-issue organization.
That’s exactly why the increasing resort to referendums is a bad thing. In Ohio, government is not decided by direct votes of citizens; we elect representatives who are supposed to study the issues, take testimony, and reach considered decisions. The referendum process means that the losing side on any legislative battle need only convince a small percentage of Ohioans to sign a petition, and the duly enacted law will be delayed until the election is held.
That result raises issues for both Republicans and Democrats, because Ohio is a swing state. If Democrats use the referendum process now, Republicans surely will do so when they are out of power. The elections impose costs and lead to the kind of over-the-top dialogue we are seeing now with Issue 2. On the complex issues confronting a diverse state like Ohio — where multiple constituencies and repercussions must be weighed — having decisions made by voters who are informed primarily by alarmist 30-second TV ads just isn’t good policy.
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once described the states as “laboratories of democacy” — that is, in our federalist system, individual states were free to experiment with different policies and diverse approaches to common problems. The idea was that, from the results of those experiments and the testing in state “laboratories,” sound policies could be distinguished from unsound.
Brandeis’ concept is playing out in Rhode Island, and in this case, the experiment has produced results that should give every other state pause. As this New York Times article explains, Rhode Island and its cities are in desperate financial straits because the pension obligations owed to public employees have become crippling and are consuming ever-larger shares of governmental budgets. A combination of rank politicking, ridiculously over-optimistic investment return projections, shrinking tax revenues, and longer-lived retirees have forced Rhode Island and its municipalities to choose between meeting its pension obligations and providing essential government services. One city, Central Falls, has already declared bankruptcy, and the state itself has had to take special measures to try to protect its bond rating.
I mention this unfortunate story because it seems pertinent to Ohio’s impending vote on Issue 2, which relates to how compensation, health care benefits, and pension benefits should be decided for public employees. As we consider Issue 2, it is important to keep in mind that government does not exist simply to provide benefits for public employees. I don’t want to see Ohio become another Rhode Island, where pension and health care benefit costs are bringing down local governments or are imposing such all-consuming obligations that roads and bridges may go unrepaired.
In November Ohio voters will be asked to vote on three issues – here are my thoughts on all three.
Issue 1 – Amend the Ohio Constitution to increase judicial candidate age to 75 from current age from 70 – I tend to have a problem with telling people they can’t do something because of their age – if a judge is in good health and they want to continue serving and there is no good reason for them not to serve then why not let them serve. If this issue goes down to defeat 71 of Ohio’s 718 judges will not have the option to seek a new term. If your wondering about a judges mental acuity – the Ohio Bar says that there are procedures in place to remove a judge if his or her mental status is in question. VOTE YES
Issue 2 – Will change which public employees would be able to bargain collectively and over what issues – Here’s my brother Bob’s post in favor of Senate Bill 5 for my friends on Facebook who don’t access our family blog on a regular basis.
Bob makes a point that he doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to ask public employees to contribute more towards their health insurance and their pensions. I would agree, but according to an Associated Press review of State Employee Relations Board data which shows public employees already pay more than the 15%. If pensions are not funded by public employees because they opted not to take a pay cut for this to be the case shouldn’t we honor that agreement ?
I disagree with Bob’s comment that public employees have more job security than private sector employees based on recent federal job’s reports that show a significant number of public sector workers losing their jobs because of state budget shortages. There is a way to address Bob’s concern about all teachers being essential, vote down the school levy in your particular area. For the first time in my lifetime I will be voting against my local school levy because it doesn’t seem to me that the money we are throwing at education is getting the required results. I am still of the fence on this one, but I will probably VOTE NO.
Issue 3 – Amend the Ohio Constitution to say that no law shall compel a person to participate in a healthcare system – in essence opt out of the affordable healthcare act individual mandate. I’m a proponent of the individual mandate because people who don’t have insurance affect the premiums that we all pay when they need treatment, but a vote one way or the other on this issue will probably be moot as the Supreme Court will most likely take up this issue in 2012. VOTE NO.
Early voting has has been underway for more than a week now on Issue 2, the issue dealing with public employee issues. Today I got an email from Ohio’s Democratic Senator, Sherrod Brown, urging me to vote early against the issue. I’ve going to wait until the election to vote, but the email got me to thinking about Issue 2.
After some reflection, I’ve decided I’m going to vote in favor of Issue 2. I recognize that there are arguments the other way, but I’ve made up my mind. Here’s why: I don’t think the collective bargaining model works with public employees. In the classic case, workers collectively bargain with bosses who own the business. The bosses have skin in the game and an incentive to vigorously bargain with the employee’s union. Our political leaders don’t have the same kind of skin in the game, however. To the contrary, they may have been elected with the active support and contributions of public employee unions. I also think that it is not unreasonable to ask public employees to contribute more toward their health insurance and pensions. Many in the private sector pay 100% of the cost of both of those benefits, without any employer contribution. Add to that the fact that there is a lot more job security in the public employee world, and I think that public employees have a pretty good deal.
I don’t believe that Issue 2 would solve our governmental budget problems by itself, and I defer to no one in my admiration for police officers and firefighters, but I also think we simply cannot afford to continue to expand the size, scope, and cost of our state and local governments. Every police officer and every firefighter may be essential — but not every teacher is, and not every clerical worker at the BMV is, either.
If Issue 2 gives our leaders more flexibility to deal with bloated public employee payrolls and to avoid the kind of crippling, long-term pension obligations that are such a problem in states like California — or, for that matter, in countries like Greece — I think that is a good idea. I’m going to vote for Issue 2 because I think it is the prudent thing to do.
The Issue 2 ad barrage continues, and polling indicates the onslaught may be moving public opinion. The question for Issue 2’s backers and opponents is: how far, and how fast?
According to the latest Quinnepiac University poll, 51 percent of Ohioans say they would vote against Issue 2, and thereby repeal legislation that will affect collective bargaining and other work conditions for public employees. That’s still a majority, but it reflects a significant shift in opinion since the prior Quinnepiac poll on that topic, which was taken in July. In two months, the gap between those who favor repeal and those who oppose it has closed from 24 percent to 13 percent.
Although the news reports on the polling data are focusing on the erosion in the support for repeal, I’d say the odds still favor repeal. Ads on Issue 2 have been running for weeks now and the people who were easily persuaded have already been persuaded. In short, the low-hanging fruit has already been picked — and unlike a presidential election, there won’t be highly publicized debates or the possibility of gaffes that might have a discernible effect on voter preferences on Issue 2. Unless there is some blockbuster ad campaign ready to be rolled out between now and the election, those who seek to uphold the public employee collective bargaining law probably will have to bank on voter turnout working in their favor. Right now, the law seems likely to survive only if the fact of an off-year election, no statewide races, and a lingering recession operate to depress the turnout of Democratic voters.
In Ohio, you can’t watch a football game without seeing commercials, pro and con, on Issue 2. The ad onslaught, funded by well-heeled groups on both sides of the issue, has begun in earnest, and the election is still six weeks away.
State Issue 2 is a public referendum on various public employee issues. A “yes” vote would uphold SB 5, legislation passed by the Ohio General Assembly earlier this year that limits certain collective bargaining rights of public employees, requires public employees to contribute at least 15 percent of their health insurance premiums and 10 percent of pension contributions, and make a number of additional changes. A “no” vote on Issue 2 would overturn that law.
The big question right now is whether the flood of commercials will advance meaningful public knowledge about Issue 2 and its impact. Would an affirmation of SB 5 cripple public employee rights and put public safety at risk, as opponents claim? Or, would the approval of SB 5 give cash-strapped state and local governments the flexibility to save money while maintaining public services, as its proponents contend?
So far, the ads I’ve seen suggest that Issue 2 is all about firefighters and the staff members who work for Ohio’s 33 state senators. Of course, that is not the case. Firefighters are attractive subjects of TV commercials, but they represent a small fraction of the public employees who would be affected by SB 5. According to an article earlier this year in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, there are nearly 650,000 state and local government employees in Ohio; in Cuyahoga County alone there are more than 76,000 local government employees. In contrast, Cleveland, the largest local government in Cuyahoga County, employs 900 firefighters.
I’d like to see commercials that get beyond firefighters and Ohio Senate staffers and get to the heart of the issues on Issue 2. Under our current scheme, how do public employees really fare versus those working in the private sector? How much money could state and local governments reasonably expect to save if SB 5 is affirmed? What abuses, if any, should cause us to change the current approach toward public employees? If voters are to be informed about the merits of Issue 2, those are the kinds of questions that need to be answered.
Wisconsin’s big recall election showdown is over. Democrats won two of the six elections to recall Republicans, leaving the Democrats one short of the number necessary to get a majority in the Wisconsin Senate.
Each side is spinning the results. Republicans boast that they survived, despite an onslaught of union money, ads, and get-out-the-vote work. Democrats tout what they say is an historic result in recalling two Senators. In short, both sides think the election sent an unmistakable message to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the rest of the Wisconsin political establishment — they just disagree on what that message was.
Ohio is the next battleground. In November, Ohioans will vote on Issue 2, which would overturn a law limiting public employee collective bargaining. What do the Wisconsin results mean for that Ohio referendum? I’m not sure they mean much of anything. Wisconsin’s recall election necessarily raised questions about the individual candidates — one of the defeated Republicans, for example, had an affair that apparently hurt his chances — whereas Ohio’s Issue 2 will present a straight, up-or-down vote on the concept of limiting public employee collective bargaining.
Ohio polls seem to indicate that a majority favors repeal of the law. Wisconsin’s relevance in Ohio, if any, may turn on the actual results of the Wisconsin collective bargaining law that gave rise to the recall elections in the first place. If the results produce meaningful savings for local governments and school districts, as some argue is the case, that fact may resonate with Ohio voters who are worried about government spending and cause them to look more favorably on the idea of keeping the Ohio law on the books.
As we at Webner House hoped, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved State Issue 2, which will move the constitutionally approved casino from Columbus’ Arena District to a site on the west side of town. It is a win for fans of the Arena District, a win for the economically depressed west side of town, and a win for Penn National, which gets a more accessible casino location. The casino construction will get underway soon and is expected to open in 2012. At that point, Ohio will leave the dwindling ranks of states with no casinos within their borders.
In other election news, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher handily defeated Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate nomination, and voters also approved Issue 1, which extends the Third Frontier program.
Ohio’s May primary is three weeks away, and so far it hasn’t garnered much attention in terms of press, political ads, or voter interest. Compared to the November election, when the legalized gambling issue attracted huge amounts of money and generated constant TV ads, the upcoming election has flown under the radar.
I’ll be going to the polls on May 4 intending to vote for Issue 2. That issue, if passed, would change the site of Columbus’ casino from the Arena District near downtown to the site of the former Delphi plant in west Columbus. The Delphi site is far from downtown and indeed is outside I-270, the six-lane highway that rings Columbus.
Unlike the November 2009 issue to amend the Ohio Constitution to allow casinos, which was opposed by a majority of voters in the Columbus area, Issue 2 seems to be supported by just about everyone. The Columbus city administration and the civic movers and shakers didn’t want the casino in the Arena District, an up-and-coming development area just north of downtown. Franklin Township, where the Delphi plant was located, is excited about getting rid of an abandoned industrial site and putting up an entertainment venue that will add some jobs. Even the casino operator probably isn’t too upset about the location change, because the new site will have more space for parking and will be much more accessible for people coming from out of town on I-71 or I-70, both of which connect with I-270. In any case, Penn National Gaming, which will operate the new casino, has already started to tear down the old Delphi plant, and as a result some jobs have been created already.
As readers of this blog know, I am not a big fan of casinos in Columbus — but if we are constitutionally required to have one, I would rather have it on the outskirts of town rather than in the heart of the city. For that reason, I wholeheartedly support Issue 2 and hope Ohio voters will, too.