Commissioners should adopt ‘no’ as the rule on the budget

There should be no misunder- standing about the attitude of private sector taxpayers when it comes to pensions and health care coverage for public employees. As the polls leading up to Tuesday’s statewide general election consistently showed, Ohioans want public sector workers to contribute at least 10 percent of their annual salaries toward their pensions and a 15 percent copayment for the health insurance premium.

We point out that fact because there may some who believe that the defeat of State Issue 2/Senate Bill 5 was an affirmation of the status quo. It wasn’t. What the voters clearly said was that Republican Gov. John Kasich and the GOP controlled General Assembly had gone too far with their collective bargaining reform law.

Mahoning County commissioners should keep that in mind as they begin deliberations on the 2012 general fund budget. The word “no,” which the public sector unions and the state Democratic Party used as the rallying cry to prevent the collective bargaining law from taking effect, must now become the word that every county employee hears with regard to the budget.

It isn’t too early to start, given that general-fund departments have requested a total of $64 million for their 2012 operating budgets, while the county budget commission has certified only $47.9 million in revenue.

That revenue projection is $6.6 million less than what was certified for the general fund this year. In other words, department heads can indulge in all the wishful thinking they can muster, but the reality is in the bottom line.

Contributing to that reality is the stubborn national economic downturn and the deep cuts by Gov. Kasich and the Ohio legislature in funding for local governments.

Indeed, more cuts in the Local Government Fund are expected because of an anticipated deficit in the state’s operating budget.

Mahoning County’s new budget director, Barbara J. Sours, has adopted a no-nonsense attitude with regard to the 2012 budget that warrants the unconditional support of commissioners Anthony Traficanti, John McNally and Carol Rimedio-Righetti.

“I think everybody knows that times are a little lean, and the certification is going down, so there’s going to be cutbacks,” Sours says. “We’re going to work together and do the best we can.”

Lean times

Given that she has been on the job since September, we can understand her reluctance to be more critical in her appraisal of the departmental budget requests. So, we will say it for her: Officeholders and other heads of agencies had better get with the program and forget about any increases in appropriations over this year. Indeed, they should brace for major cuts.

Private sector taxpayers will not take kindly to public employees receiving pay raises or boosts to their compensation packages.

The defeat of State Issue 2 was not an invitation for officeholders to go forth and raid the public treasury.

We would urge Commissioners Traficanti, McNally and Rimedio-Righetti to strike a blow for common-sense governance by publicizing a list of all county government employees — general fund and non-general fund — showing how much each one pays toward his or her pension and health insurance.

If all the county employees, including the elected officials, are contributing at least 10 percent of their annual salaries toward their pensions and 15 percent copay for health insurance premiums, they will be duly recognized by the public. But it is our sense that the list will show a goodly number paying less than what the public expects, or not paying anything at all.

For those who aren’t living up to the public’s expectations, we say, “The gravy train has left the station.” The commissions must find a way of making sure that all county employees live up to what has become the social contract for public employment.

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