If Issue 2 is voted down, change still is needed

It looks as if Issue 2 will face defeat in two weeks, based on current polling.

And based on the mixed and conflicted Issue 2/Senate Bill 5 sentiments around the state, it’s probably best.

But what’s also probably best for Ohio is for the feverish debate that’s engulfed the state to continue and result in substantive change within government operations.

The Republicans overreached with SB 5.

It would be foolish for the Democrats to do the same in victory, by reaching too far back to a standard most Ohioans have decried — or should I say, most Ohioans who are not part of PERS, SERS, STRS, OPF, DROP or the assorted other clubs that have become pillars of government employment.

To have Issue 2 voted down is not to say the current standard is OK. In a recent Quinnipiac University poll in which 51 percent of Ohioans disapproved of Issue 2 as a whole, that same group also weighed in with this:

60 percent wants performance pay over longevity pay.

59 percent wants health-care payments of at least 15 percent for employees.

56 percent wants at least 10 percent of pension payments to come from employees.

I, too, am not a fan of the current government standard. But I’m also not a fan of leaving workers unprotected.

Locally, tick off the names of the officially troubled bosses, such as Lisa Antonini, Maureen Cronin, Jim Traficant, Jim Tsgaris. Then consider the bosses who are officially perplexing. It would be tough to subject hard-working hourly staff to the whims and compromises of such folks.

My other problem with SB 5 is that it targets the union jobs only and leaves unrestrained the actions of government bosses whose actions are hardly union-influenced. We’ve spent much of 2011 looking at county prosecutor Paul Gains’ spending decisions. And just two weeks ago, I was able to highlight the questionable pay raises at the Mahoning County Board of Health — where top health boss Matt Stefanak even forgot he got a January pay raise in addition to his June 2010 and June 2011 raises.

That’s not fixed with Issue 2.

But Issue 2 fixes many things, and it’s my hope that in its defeat, those things won’t be forgotten.

I polled some trusted friends this week — private-sector folks, but none whom I would call rabid crusaders in unhealthy areas. I asked:

What is it you truly want changed about the government work force and what do you want to maintain? The replies were heartfelt, and included:

“With all due respect to our public employees, the rest of us cannot afford the explosion of entitlement. Unfortunately, they have been given promises that cannot be kept re: pension, health care etc. I don’t blame them for wanting to preserve the status quo, but things change. My income has dropped over 50 percent in the last 10 years. So my wife works two jobs so our kids can go to college. Get over it.”

Cash-out policies for unused vacation/sick time must change, and add annual and measurable performance audits. Maintain the right for collective bargaining, and address the entry-level salary for police and fire in Youngstown, which is very low and potentially dangerous due to the quality of candidates.

“I actually have no qualms with salaries and, in fact, see where many jobs [teachers] should be higher than they are. But I cannot abide by the current pension and benefit packages. These are overly generous and will break our state and federal governments if not addressed. I think the current ads talking about how the law will create ‘unsafe’ conditions is a sham. Like in business, the bosses [elected leaders] set staffing levels, and they will be accountable if their staffing does not get the job done. We must have government we can afford, not the one we dream up in an all-inclusive fantasy.”

Todd Franko is editor of The Vindicator. He likes emails about stories and our newspaper. Email him at tfranko@vindy.com. He blogs, too, on vindy.com.

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