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Collective thoughts of a taxpayer

Originally Published: 04:57 a.m., February 27, 2011 and  Updated 04:57 a.m., February 27, 2011

By Todd Franko (Contact)

Hollywood must be watching.

On Monday, state Rep. Bob Hagan of Youngstown chided Gov. Kasich for putting his foot in his mouth. It was just days after Hagan got pulled into a Facebook debate and dropped the not-so-sensitive name “Buckwheat” with an African-American guy in the debate.

Also Monday, state Rep. Tom Letson of Warren, fresh out of personal reform, was front and center at a Youngstown State University union rally when he really needed to be backstage lying low.

On Thursday, Mahoning County Prosecutor Paul Gains spoke for a while in joining Mahoning County commissioners against Ohio Senate Bill 5, which would curtail collective- bargaining powers of government unions. Yet Gains is the No. 1 Poster Boy for showing that government spending is so screwed, you don’t even need unions to get 10- and 20-percent pay raises — just work for Paul.

Hagan ... Letson ... Gains ...

They were missing only Charlie Sheen for that foursome.

It was a crazy week of debate over how our tax dollars are spent. And half-baked leadership like the above allowed for flawed focus from Columbus to Madison, Wis., and in many Panera Breads in between.

Flaw examples:

Any lawmakers (Hagan, Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, etc.) who want 5,000 protesters in the Statehouse truly don’t want to conduct the people’s business. That’s a circus at Covelli Centre; not a legislative debate. Had it been tea- party members doing the same, Hagan would have been smarting off at Lemon Grove instead of the Statehouse steps.

The debate is about government workers, not specifically union workers. But union workers have built so much traction — too much — that they wag nonunion government worker spending as well, as evidenced by deals handed out in the Mahoning County engineer’s office, among other places.

Stop saying that this would not have happened were it not for Wall Street’s problems. We taxpayers have had a government worker pay and benefits problem for 15 years. In fact, The Vindicator wrote about it in 2003.

Only now has the perfect storm of a shattered economy and political will forced you all to listen (except Gains). Tom Costello in Boardman Township is not extorting township workers. He’s merely telling you in advance what voters will tell you in May: “Ask for more money while having better benefits than us, and you lose.”

But specifically to the union contracts and collective bargaining — since that’s the debate in front of America right now — here are some things that we “privates” would like you to know and/or fix:

First, we know it’s not all government workers. But the elected leaders, department heads and union bosses at the front of the line need to take a hard look at themselves.

Sick time is an insurance against your inability to work. It is not a bonus. If you have the ability to work, you don’t get the sick time. If you end your homeownership having never filed a claim, you are not getting a refund on your premiums.

Your annual salary is based on 2,080 hours that you work; not 2,080 hours — plus the 200 hours of sick time that you did not use, and vacation that you cash out. That practice would bankrupt privates.

Tie your pay raises to the strength of the local economy. Raises of 2, 3 and 4 percent are fine. They absolutely are. But they should come when a region’s income and sales taxes reflect a certain strength and growth. They shouldn’t come because “that’s the contract we signed.”

Let the college professor paint his damn office. Don’t tell him that work rules allow only the five designated guys in maintenance to paint rooms — and then make him wait four years.

Align your health-care insurance co-pay and deductible within the 80 percent range of the average private citizen.

Don’t send more than two people to a state or national conference. Send one and have him or her report back to the group. You sometimes send five to 10 people. That hardly happens in private industry around here.

Your pension cannot be the average of your last three years unless you fund it 100 percent yourself. You’ve manipulated that system with padded overtime, inflated income and other enhancers that you load into your final three years. Most of you did not pay into the system yourself. What was paid into the system for you was certainly not at a rate to match your last three years.

All these 15 or so years, too many government workers never, ever budged on these issues. Too stubborn. Too greedy.

Hagan, Gains, Schiavoni and the gang can grandstand all they want. They cannot cash the checks they want to write — and they know it.

So now that the entire job-protected world of the government employee is caving in, some of these options are suddenly acceptable.

Sorry. You’ll have to endure a little more concessions.

We promise not to ask you to go back to the standard of pay and benefits of the ’60s and ’70s, which concerns some of you.

But we’re also not interested in going back to the last 15 years, which concerns us.

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes e-mails about stories and our newspaper. E-mail him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.

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