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On tuesday, Ohio voters will vote on Issue 2, which is a referendum on Senate Bill 5 (SB5). Voting 'Yes' on Issue 2 is a vote to keep the SB5 legislation in place. Voting 'No' on Issue 2 is a vote to repeal SB5.
I went to the union-backed website WeAreOhio.com. The unions want to repeal SB5. The first thing I saw on the union website was this - "Senate Bill 5 does not apply to politicians. While politicians were asking hardworking Ohioans to make "shared sacrifices", they were giving out huge pay raises and bonuses to their staff members. Stop the politicians from hurting middle class families - and helping themselves". I agree that Ohio's politicians should not be giving themselves raises when the state is so deeply in debt and unemployment is high, but that's not the real issue to consider here. The real issue is, how does Ohio close it's $8 billion budget deficit ? (other sources have claimed the budget deficit is $5 billion, but either way, something must be done). It boils down to two choices - 1) Raise taxes, or 2) Cut spending, and therein lies my problem with what WeAreOhio is selling. They talk about SB5 "hurting middle class families". Well, who do they think is going to bear the burden of the tax increases that will be necessary if SB5 is negated ? It will be ALL of us - middle class families, poor families, everyone. All Ohioans pay state/local taxes of some sort. WeAreOhio is asking us to pay more, so that public sector union employees won't have to pay 15% of the costs of their own pensions and health care benefits. This leads to my second problem with what WeAreOhio is selling. PUBLIC SECTOR UNION EMPLOYEES MAKE FAR MORE IN WAGES AND BENEFITS THAN THE REST OF US. As reported by the Associated Press:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national wage-plus-benefits averages in June were $28.13 per hour in the private sector and $40.40 per hour in the public sector.
Public sector employees have it pretty good, far better than private sector employees, and as most of you who work in the private sector know, private sector workers have been paying a large portion of their own pension and health care benefits (usually 50%) for many years now, if they are lucky enough to have those benefits at all. Now WeAreOhio is trying to say private sector workers, who pay 100% of the salaries and benefits of public workers to begin with, should pick up the tab for the wages/benefits of public sector workers who already make 43% more than they do on average. How in the world is that fair ??? Who is "hurting middle class families" now ? Where is the "shared sacrifice" in that ? What I hear WeAreOhio saying is "we are more entitled than the rest of you". With poverty on the rise in a poor economy, it is eminently reasonable to ask the best-paid workers in our state, the public sector union workers, to pay THEIR fair share. What is unreasonable is to ask the more downtrodden workers to pick up the tab. And while I'm on the subject, private sector workers don't get to retire after 25 years on the job with full pensions at age 50 either. Public sector union workers DO, and guess who picks up the tab for that ? The private sector workers, that's who. In many cases, those public sector employees will spend more years in retirement collecting their pensions than they did working...and it's somehow unreasonable for them to pay 15% of their own benefits during their working years ??? I don't think so. Why would they expect taxpayers to pay 100% of that freight when the taxpayers have to pay for THEIR OWN PENSIONS THEMSELVES ?
Because WeAreOhio can't argue the merits based on factual data, they resort to a bunch of mud-slinging and scare tactics. They say "collective bargaining rights are being destroyed", and Governor Kasich is engaging in "union busting", but those are just characterizations. SB5 states that the public sector unions can't collectively bargain on benefits. That is an effort to get the main drivers of exploding state budget costs (pensions and health care costs) under control. Labor costs are the biggest driver of local government costs (and lowering the salaries of politicians wouldn't make a dent in our budget deficit). The public sector unions can still collectively bargain on wages, terms, and conditions of their employment under SB5 (with a few wrinkles, which I'll get to in a minute). The unions will still be intact, though honestly, I don't know why we need public sector unions at all. Unions make sense in the private sector where management represents only management, but in the public sector we have elected representatives to represent ALL the people. If we don't like our representation, we can vote in new representation. It's really that simple.
Then WeAreOhio trots out this canard - "[A YES vote on] Issue 2 would make it harder for our everyday heroes to serve our communities", accompanied by a picture of a firefighter. I beg to differ. If anything would impede the ability of our heroes to serve our communities, it would be if there were LESS of them, and voting NO on Issue 2 may well result in less of them, because Ohio taxpayers are already hurting financially and probably won't agree to any tax increases to close Ohio's budget gap. That will result in layoffs of firefighters, police officers, and teachers.
Issue 2 opponents say ending binding arbitration, which SB5 does do, will result in the employers (politicians) determining the working conditions of public sector employees. WeAreOhio is running tons of radio and tv ads making this point. I'll let the Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial board respond:
Imperfect though it may be, Issue 2 will give local governments and school districts more tools to control labor costs and protect taxpayers. It requires public employees to make the same kind of contributions toward their health and pension benefits that most private-sector workers do. It ends state-mandated wage step-ups, requires performance-based pay and permits layoffs based on more than seniority. Those factors are especially important to school districts such as Cleveland that need to transform themselves in the face of outmoded state rules that force them to toss aside newer -- and perhaps better -- teachers when money is tight.
Issue 2 also would revamp the current system of binding arbitration. Envisioned as a way to resolve deadlocks without strikes, such arbitration in practice can short-circuit bargaining because neither side has to put its real bottom line on the table and instead can roll the dice with an arbitrator who must pick between competing proposals. Mayors, including Akron's Don Plusquellic -- a Democrat who opposes Issue 2 -- have complained bitterly for years that arbitrators need not consider a city's finances in making their decisions. That has to change.
But Issue 2 ends binding arbitration in a way that also raises questions: It leaves the final decision on an impasse to the employer's legislative body -- that is the city council or school board. Unions and their allies say that lets the employer decide. Yet even skeptical supporters of Issue 2 wonder if elected officials will really make tough decisions regarding popular -- and politically active -- employees such as police officers, firefighters and teachers.
Are the unions losing some of their power to dictate terms to the government and the taxpayers under SB5 ? Yes, they are, and that's why they are spending a boatload of money to fight it. However, I don't know many politicians who would want to take stands against law and order, public safety, or teachers, do you ? Have you ever heard a politician say 'If I'm elected, I promise FEWER police officers, FEWER firefighters, and FEWER teachers. I promise the streets will be less safe, and our kids won't be as well educated" ??? I haven't, and if any do, I'm fairly certain they won't be around for long. If you doubt me, just look at the firestorm SB5 has caused, and that is an effort TO KEEP ESSENTIAL PUBLIC WORKERS ON THE JOB. The bottom line here is, our government HAS to be able to control it's costs, or it's not really a government, it's subservient to special interests, in this case the unions. What we need to do is make our state's finances sustainable, and right now they are not.
We all appreciate police officers, firefighters, and teachers. I know I do. If the financial good times return to Ohio, I'm all for paying them as much as our finances allow. But times are tough out there, and this is the time to cut back, because the last thing we want are fewer police officers, firefighters, and teachers on the job. The next to last thing we want is to increase taxes on our struggling citizens.
Voting Yes on Issue 2 makes sense.