Thursday, August 4, 2011

Power to the People

Ohio and Ohioans are used to being the center of attention on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  Every four years we hear ad nauseum about how “no Republican has ever won the Presidency without winning Ohio”, and indeed Ohio is a perennial swing state.  Our Congressional elections always feature multiple toss-ups and millions in advertisements.  In even numbered years it’s Ohio that helps drive the national political discussion.

In odd numbered years like this however, Ohio typically is afforded a breather.  No statewide or federal offices are elected, and the ballot measures tend to be fairly benign.  Unlike these past years, 2011 promises to place Ohio squarely in the eyes of national politics the same way we’re accustomed to in even numbered years.  Three statewide issues will be on the ballot in November, two having profound repercussions for both Ohio and the nation, and I would like to address all three.

Issue 1 is by far the least controversial of the three, and thus I’ll spend the least amount of time on it.  Currently a person cannot run for a judicial seat in Ohio once they pass the age of 70, and Issue 1 if passed would increase this limit to 75.  Needless to say, this isn’t exactly an issue that will drive the average citizen to get out and vote (though many Ohio judges in their 60s will feel otherwise).  Personally I see no reason for any kind of age limit on judges: Ohioans elect them all, and we should have every right to vote for a candidate of any age.  I’ll be supporting Issue 1 as a step in the right direction on this matter.

Skipping down to the last statewide ballot initiative, Issue 3 deals with a provision of Obamacare.  If passed, Ohio would declare itself exempt from the individual mandate aspect of Obamacare that dictates all Americans must purchase health insurance coverage from either private companies or the federal government.  To be quite honest I find this issue to be largely a moot point.  States are constitutionally prohibited from nullifying federal laws, and if the purpose is to provoke a court challenge of the individual mandate one already exists from state attorney generals (including our own AG Mike DeWine) and is working its way through the federal court system.  The primary issue at stake it would seem will be resolved by this case. If the individual mandate is ruled unconstitutional (as it should be in my opinion) then there’s no need for an exemption.  If it is upheld by the courts, then any attempt by Ohio or any other state to nullify a federal law will surely fail upon a court challenge. 

While Issue 3 might not have the kind of direct impact one would expect from a statewide initiative, the symbolic value of this vote cannot be overstated.  As President Obama and Congressional Democrats passed Obamacare last year they insisted that, once Americans had the chance to learn what was in the bill, it would see a gain in popularity.  It has been over a year now, and polling continues to show a majority of Americans opposed to the legislation.  Now Ohio, the definition of a swing state, will serve as a laboratory to test whether or not people will support the health care law after being given all the facts.  With millions sure to spent on both sides of this issue, passage of Issue 3 would be the largest and most direct blow to the assertions of Obama and the left on this matter.  If only to send a message, I will be voting yes to exempt Ohioans from being forced to purchase health insurance in clear violation of the intent of the commerce clause. 

As much attention as Issue 3 will draw, the main event this November will be the showdown over Issue 2.  In case you’re not from Ohio or have been living in a non-politicized cave these past several months, the Ohio Legislature passed Senate Bill 5 this General Assembly.  SB5 places limits on the collective bargaining privileges extended to some government employees in 1983.  More specifically, the main provisions include prohibiting government employees from striking, installing merit pay raises rather than automatic step raises based upon longevity, requiring government employees to pay 15% toward benefits and 10% toward state pension plans, limiting the amount of leave time one can accrue, and most notably restricting what employees can and cannot collectively bargain for.  I’ll touch on each of these briefly.

The prohibition of government employees striking mirrors that which already exists at the federal level.  When employees of the government strike, they don’t merely disrupt the actions and exchanges of an individual business: they disrupt the vital services that all people rely upon, from fire and police service to the education of children.  As President Reagan said in regards to the 1981 air traffic controllers strike, “Government cannot close down the assembly line.  It has to provide without interruption the protective services which are government’s reason for being.”  When government is on strike the safeguards of society are placed in peril, and prohibiting such action is a proper step for our state to make.

Although SB5 critics claim that merit pay is an unfair imposition and impossible to establish, one need only look to the private sector to see this claim for the fallacy it is.  The good lawyer charges more and makes more than the average or poor lawyer.  The good salesman (often through commission) makes more than the average or poor salesman.  The same goes for doctors, accountants, chefs, engineers, athletes, waiters (on tips), architects, and oh so many other professions.  In all these examples we can see that merit systems reward talent and motivate the individual to excel.  How then can it be claimed that such a system is punitive to those working for the public?  Indeed the good teacher/policeman/fire fighter should be thrilled by this change: they can make more under the proposed change than they would with a system based solely on longevity.

Asking public employees to pay 15% toward their own benefits is hardly an unfair requirement.  For those of you reading this from the private sector, you are paying on average 31% toward your own health, dental, vision, et al.  SB5’s requirement is less than half as much, yet government employee union bosses cry foul.  Government employees are not entitled to any better or worse than citizens in the private sector.

The limit on accrual of leave time is as follows: no more than 6 weeks of paid vacation time, no more than 12 paid holidays, and no more than 3 paid personal days annually.  Do some quick math and one realizes this adds up to 45 work days annually.  For my friends working for private companies, can any of you take 45 days off in year (excluding major medical reasons) and expect to remain employed by that company?  I feel safe to assume your answer would be ‘no’.  As with the preceding point, why should government employees be entitled to a level of benefits that no one in private sector could reasonably expect to receive?  The limit on leave time can hardly be described as exceedingly burdensome on workers.

Last but not least we come to the restrictions on collective bargaining.  Here it is vital to note what is and is not restricted.  Government employees will still be able to bargain collectively on matters related to wages, hours, terms and conditions of their employment.  Those things which are classified as management decisions (none of the former being such) would not be subject to collective bargaining.  Once again one need only compare this provision to the realities of the private sector to realize how moderated and reasonable such a provision is.  This is no less than what one would see in any company, and in most cases would qualify as more. 

These points are by no means exhaustive of their subjects, nor are they meant to be.  These however are the general outlines of what Senate Bill 5 does, apart from the lies and the rhetoric of those who have spurred on the campaign of misinformation about this legislation.  Why is so much money and opposition being foisted against it then?  That, dear friends, is a future blog all its own.  The point for today is that Issue 2/Senate Bill 5 provides reasonable and common sense modifications to the compensation and bargaining privileges of government workers.  In November I’ll be voting Yes on Issue 2 to help restore balance and sanity to government compensation packages.

In the coming months I will certainly be writing more on these issues (particularly Issue 2), but let this be an overview of where we in Ohio stand heading into the most exciting off-year election our state has had in many, many years.  On November 8th the eyes of the nation will be on the Buckeye State yet again, and what we decide will have far-reaching impact.

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