Ohio Sen. Cliff Hite addresses the Heart Land Patriots group on Monday. He talked about the importance of passing Issue 2 on this fall's ballot. (Times Bulletin/Kirk Dougal)
BY KIRK DOUGAL
Times Bulletin Editor
VAN WERT - Ohio voters will be facing choices on several different issues on the ballot this November. One of those decisions will be on Issue 2 and on Monday evening, Ohio Senator Cliff Hite was in Van Wert to speak to the Heart Land Patriots group about the subject. He represents Ohio District 1, an area consisting of ten counties - Van Wert, Paulding, Defiance, Williams, Fulton, Henry, Putnam, Hancock, Hardin and part of Auglaize.
Issue 2 is on the ballot as an effort to repeal portions of SB5, particularly the parts that deal with items such as collective bargaining, merit pay, health insurance and pension payments, and benefits. These items affect teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other government employees.
Opposition to Issue 2 has been raised, in general, by the unions involved with these groups. They claim these portions will cut salaries and benefits, raise government employee health care costs, eliminate government employee pensions, cut teacher salaries, prohibit strikes, and cost jobs.
Sen. Hite told the Heart Land Patriots on Monday that he could not disagree more with the opponents of Issue 2. By way of background, he explained he was a fourth generation teacher and now his daughter makes the fifth generation of education professionals in his family.
"There is no way I would ever bite the hand that has fed my family for five generations," he said. "So there must be a reason that this ex-teacher of 30 years, and former building union (rep) in Bryan for a couple of years, is for it."
He went on to say that SB5 was in direct response to the will of the voters sending legislators to Columbus with the responsibility to make Ohio fiscally responsible.
"We had an $8 billion deficit," he continued. "What part of broke don't people understand? $8 billion. You know what we did? We passed a budget that eliminated $8 billion of deficit and did not raise (Ohioans) taxes."
Sen. Hite addressed each of the opponents' complaints one by one. First, he said, government employees would not receive pay cuts. Instead, they would be asked to pay amounts for their benefits more in line with what the private sector pays. For instance, they would be asked to pay for 15 percent of their health care cost, about half of the average cost of employee contributions for PPO's in the private sector at 29 percent. They would also be required to pay 10 percent of their retirement plan instead of having taxpayers pay both the employer and employee contributions. As far as raising the costs of government employee health care, Hite said that is not true because state workers who are already paying 15 percent contributions would be unaffected.
According to the senator, the bill also does not eliminate government pensions. It only requires the employees to pay their ten percent while the taxpayer picks up the employer's 14 percent.
Hite said perhaps the two biggest misnomers deal with pay and collective bargaining rights. Pay is not cut under Issue 2. It only eliminates the practice of "step" increases, automatic pay raises that workers such as teachers receive for holding jobs for a certain length of time. Instead, Issue 2 ties compensation to merit pay, giving raises to the best performing workers.
As to collective bargaining, workers will maintain the right to negotiate as a group for working conditions and wages but not for benefits such as pensions or sick and vacation days, which will now be limited to 10 days and six weeks per year, respectively.
Hite pointed out that since the Ohio biennial budget was balanced on the terms of the issue, a repeal now would prove devastating to the state's finances. That would also mean drastic measures for workers, residents, and programs around the state.
"The budget is already finished. If Issue 2 fails, we're talking about $1.3 billion that needs to be picked up in extra costs. That won't happen. What will happen - massive layoffs and/or increased taxes which you are going to be asked to vote on. If you've got friends who are teachers or professors, and you don't want to see them massively laid off, we're talking maybe up to 21,000 public servants within a year or two, you must support Issue 2."