Those of us who are voting YES on Issue 2 have been accused of everything from wanting to destroy the middle class to putting the lives of our firefighters in danger.
The truth is, most of us are just concerned citizens who see the budget crisis on our doorstep and realize that reforms are needed. While many public employees already pay 15% of their health care and 10% of their pensions—some even more— many do not. The average city workers in Ohio pay 9% for their health care, compared to 23% for the private sector. Akron’s teachers and city workers pay nothing toward their own health care. A YES on Issue 2 would require public employees to pay 15%, still well below the state average for the private sector. (And they’ll still be able to bargain for safety equipment, wages, terms, and conditions.)
In Columbus, the city pays both the employer (taxpayer) and the employee portion of the pension for city employees—they don’t contribute a dime toward their own pensions, a practice called pension pickups. Pension pickups cost Columbus $36 million in 2011. A YES on Issue 2 would stop the practice of taxpayers footing the bill for the public employees’ portion of the pension contribution.
Obviously, these perks are completely out of line with the private sector. We must remember that all Ohio taxpayers pay for these gold-plated benefit plans through our state tax dollars, which are redistributed to municipalities and school districts across the state.
This isn’t personal—the hard truth is that these benefit packages are no longer sustainable. School districts and municipalities across the state are projecting huge deficits over the next five years. The Akron Public Schools are projecting a $142 million deficit by 2015, when personnel costs will consume 93% of the district’s budget. (Find all Ohio district projections here.) This will ultimately lead to massive teacher layoffs because the state education budget has been slashed across the board and the district has no way to plug the holes. The levy on Tuesday’s ballot (about a 14% increase in property taxes) will likely fail, despite a last quarter robo-call from hometown villain hero, Lebron James. Even with the $14 million infusion of property taxes, the district would still be in the red. This scenario is being repeated in district after district and city after city in Ohio.
A YES vote on Issue 2 will save jobs and put Ohio back on the road to balanced budgets in its school districts, cities, counties, and small towns.