They range from whether Ohioans will be subject to the provisions of federal health-care reforms passed by Congress in late 2009 to whether police and firefighter unions may negotiate for staffing levels to whether Cincinnati should develop any passenger rail projects during the next decade.
It's heady stuff, to be sure, almost enough to tempt an overwhelmed person into foregoing the right and responsibility to have his or her voice heard as part of this messy system we call democracy.
But that would be a cop-out, and just hurt you more in the long-run.
Instead, let CityBeat guide you through the maze of issues at both the local and state levels, and see if we can't tempt you to see things our way.
And away we go!
Ohio Issue 2: Referendum on New Law Relative to Government Union Contracts and Other Government Employment Contracts and Policies: No
Although they barely mentioned it on the campaign trail before last year's mid-term elections, many Republican politicians wasted no time once they were elected in enacting laws to rollback the collective bargaining rights of public sector labor unions, with behind-the-scenes help from secretive groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council and its supporters, the shifty Koch brothers.
In Ohio, that involved Gov. John Kasich obnoxiously stumping for the passage of Senate Bill No. 5, which was approved in March. It restricts the state's 400,000 public workers from negotiating for health insurance and pensions, allowing it only for wages. It also prevents unions from charging “fair-share” dues to employees who opt out.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker may have gotten the most national media attention for his anti-union bill, but The New York Times earlier this year described Ohio's legislation as “most comprehensive assault against unions” in the nation.
GOP lawmakers said their efforts were aimed at curbing expenses and helping balance state budgets, but that's just a smokescreen. In reality, public sector labor unions have done their part in trying to curtail costs by saving taxpayers more than $250 million through pay freezes and unpaid furlough days, and agreeing to an extra $100 million in increased health-care contributions from their members
Much of the state's current fiscal woes are due to the continual chipping away at traditional sources of revenue through an obsessive focus on tax cuts at any cost, along with declines in collections from income taxes and sales taxes because of the recession.
The law's true purpose is trying to lessen the influence of labor unions in elections. Because unions typically support candidates that promise to lobby for fair wages and defend workers' rights, their support mostly has gone to Democrats over the years. That's provided a sizable contributor base for Dems, along with — perhaps more importantly — a great infrastructure for mobilizing “get out the vote” efforts. The GOP hates that, and wants to dismantle it before next year's presidential and congressional contests.
Instead of crafting a serious plan for putting Ohioans back to work, Kasich has spent his time unfairly blaming unions and giving generous tax breaks to wealthy corporations, some of which contribute to his campaign. Voting down Issue 2 will reject Kasich's odious strategy and send a signal that he needs to get serious about creating a jobs plan that's fair for all Ohioans.
Ohio Issue 3: To Preserve the Freedom of Ohioans to Choose Their Health Care and Health Care Coverage: No
Don't be fooled by this issue's wording. Issue 3 preserves “freedom” about as much as Marie Antoinette defended the working class.
This issue is supported primarily by the Tea Party and is an effort to overturn the health-care reforms passed by Congress in December 2009, which conservatives derisively refer to as “ObamaCare.” They mostly dislike the provision that requires all U.S. citizens to purchase health-care insurance beginning in January 2014.
But the individual mandate is a crucial element to containing skyrocketing medical costs. It requires everyone to pay their fair share for care when they're sick or injured, instead of letting the uninsured rely on emergency rooms that pass along the cost in the form of higher fees to people who have insurance. It's a matter of personal responsibility.
Also, opting out of the federal health-care reforms would have disastrous consequences for many Ohioans. The reforms prohibit insurance companies from excluding people with preexisting medical conditions from getting health insurance. Further, they allow working parents to include their children under their employer's health-care plan until age 26; and stop insurance companies from imposing annual and lifetime caps on health-care coverage.
Until all of the federal law's provisions kick in during the next few years, there are an estimated 50.7 million Americans who have no health-care insurance, including about 1.5 million in Ohio. This should be unacceptable in a moral society, and opting out of the reforms will only increase this number.
Republicans have been promising their own version of health-care reform driven by the private sector for decades but have never delivered. Please remember that the GOP initially opposed Social Security and Medicare, two programs that have since proven wildly popular with voters
Let's be clear: We believe the individual mandate ultimately will be upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Insurance companies operate across state lines, so the Commerce Clause applies. Moreover, previous high court decisions have allowed Congress to pass laws that fall within its “basic mission;” it was used to uphold the creation of a federal bank, for example. Ohioans should be allowed to reap the benefits when the reforms prevail in the judicial arena.
Local Issue 32: Proposed Tax Levy (Additional) for General Improvement Purposes — Cincinnati School District: Yes
This is a tough one. CityBeat generally has been supportive of levy requests by Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), aware that investments in a school system can benefit a region in a variety of ways while also enriching the lives of students who need ample resources to successfully enter adulthood and the workforce.
The 7.95-mill, permanent property tax levy would help pay for tangible assets like textbooks, computers and building maintenance. It would mean an increase of $243 annually for the owner of a property valued at $100,000.
Some critics have questioned CPS for seeking such a large levy during a recession or not imposing an expiration date on the measure. Although we sympathize with those concerns and wish district officials had released a more detailed plan earlier in the campaign, we have faith the money will be used wisely.
If it isn't, we can always vote out school board members in the next election. Our children shouldn't suffer, in the meantime.
Local Issue 37: Proposed Tax Levy (Renewal and Decrease) for Health and Hospitalization Services — Hamilton County: Yes
The 4.07-mill, three-year property tax levy would help pay for health-care services for poor and uninsured county residents, and is a reduction of the levy currently in place that's about to expire.
If approved, the levy would $20.9 million annually to University Hospital for adult indigent care, and $5.2 million annually to Children's Hospital for pediatric indigent care. Also, it would provide $100,000 for free pharmacy services for eligible clients; provide $600,000 in the levy's third year for new facilities-based medical services for homeless people; and provides for indigent care services offered by county departments including the Juvenile Court and the Sheriff's Office.
The levy equals a taxation rate of about $46 annually for every $100,000 of a property's value.
This proposal, pushed by the Hamilton County Commission's Republican majority, reduces subsidies to University Hospital by 19.6 percent, or $5.1 million annually; and to Children's Hospital by 13.3 percent, or $800,000 annually.
Although we would've preferred the levy amount remain constant, as the need for indigent care is greater than ever, this is a worthwhile measure that deserves support.
Local Issue 38: Proposed Tax Levy (Renewal) for Support of Children's Services and the Care and Placement of Children — Hamilton County: Yes
The 2.77-mill, five-year property tax levy would provide about $39 million annually for federal- and state-mandated services to children through Hamilton County Children's Services. They include investigating reports of child abuse and neglect and placing children into foster homes, if necessary.
If approved, the owner of $100,000 property would pay about $51 a year, about the same as currently being paid.
Children are among the most vulnerable members of our society and ensuring their safety must never be compromised, especially at a time when families are being placed under greater and greater stress.
Local Issue 44: Proposed Ordinance for Electric Aggregation — City of Cincinnati: Yes
If approved by voters, this measure would allow the city to form a “community buying group” on behalf of Cincinnati residents to obtain a bulk discount on the purchase of electricity.
By harnessing the collective buying power of many people, the city will be able to better negotiate for lower power rates from competing firms vying for its contract. If any resident didn't like the deal, he or she would be able to opt out and select another provider.
Aggregation already has been used with great success in nearby suburbs. Cheviot’s supply contract saved its residents 65 percent over Duke Energy’s best Ohio rate, while residents of Indian Hill save an average of $74 each month on electricity with a guaranteed rate.
So far, nine other Hamilton County communities have opted for electric aggregation. It makes good financial sense for Cincinnati to follow suit.
Local Issue 45: Proposed Ordinance for Gas Aggregation — City of Cincinnati: Yes
This is a measure related to Issue 44 above, but affects the sale and purchase of natural gas. We support passage for the same reasons.
Local Issue 46: Proposed Charter Amendment for Aligning the Dates to File Campaign Finance Reports between Cincinnati and Hamilton County — City of Cincinnati: No
Pay close attention! This issue sounds innocuous, but it isn't. If this amendment is approved, it would eliminate two important reforms that are part of the Campaign Finance Reform charter amendment passed by voters 2001.
Specifically, it would abolish the extra campaign donation filing reports that's now required 60 days before the election from City Council and mayoral candidates. Additionally, it would eliminate the filing requirement for a special report of large contributions, those more than $500, in the 20-day period before a municipal election.
In other words, special interests — whether they be large corporations or labor unions — could dump large amounts of cash into a campaign and it wouldn't be revealed until after the election. We need more transparency in elections, not less. Reject this awful proposal.
Local Issue 47: Proposed Charter Amendment for Prohibiting from Assessing, Levying, or Collecting Any Tax or General Assessment for Garbage Collection: No
To help avert a potential deficit, City Manager Milton Dohoney Jr. late last year proposed Cincinnati implement a garbage collection fee of up to $20 each month. City Council balked at the idea and, so far, hasn't revisited the issue.
Still, the concept so outraged the NAACP's local chapter that it collected enough signatures to put a potential ban on the ballot.
We're not sure we like the idea of a garbage fee, either. After all, isn't collecting trash a basic function of municipal government, one that our taxes should — theoretically, at least — already pay for? And we know we don't like Dohoney's “one size fits all” approach; we prefer the model used in other cities, where the fee depends on how much garbage is generated, and where elderly residents get a discount.
But one thing we know for certain is that a garbage fee is an inappropriate item to be included in the city's charter. The document is meant for broader policy directives, not minutiae like this. Governing by constant referendum is wrong; just look at all the trouble and chaos it's caused in California.
Local Issue 48: Proposed Charter Amendment for Prohibiting the City From Spending Money for the Financing, Designing, Engineering, Constructing, Building or Operating a Streetcar System, Which Means a System of Passenger Vehicles Operated on Rails Constructed Primarily in Existing Public Right of Ways, Through the Year 2020: No
This is the big one. For the second time in as many years, an unusual alliance between the Coalition Opposed to Additional Spending and Taxes (COAST) and the NAACP's local chapter is seeking a ballot initiative that will prevent Cincinnati officials from building a long-planned streetcar system.
In 2009 the two groups tried it with an initiative that would've required a public vote before taxpayer money was used for any rail-related project within Cincinnati; the measure was defeated, 56 percent to 44 percent. The same year, a pro-streetcar majority was elected to City Council.
Now they're trying again. If Issue 48 is approved, it would prohibit Cincinnati from building any type of passenger rail system through Dec. 31, 2020. In fact, because the initiative also prohibits any design or planning work, it likely blocks any such project for at least 15 years since it would have to start from scratch.
Just like in 2009, the broad wording affects far more than just the city's planned streetcar system in downtown and Over-the-Rhine. It also would block any commuter rail projects within Cincinnati city limits on the Eastern Corridor or potential light rail projects into Warren County to the north or to the airport to the south. And once again, COAST and the NAACP are trying to confuse voters about the initiative's true impact, even though they wrote the damned thing.
It's not surprising that the ultra-conservative COAST would oppose the streetcar project, as the group is rabidly anti-mass transit. If were up to this crew, everyone would own a car, the United States would be drilling for oil anywhere and everywhere it could (sorry, Gulf of Mexico), and we'd be building about 12 new lanes onto I-75. What a utopia!
But it's sad that the NAACP's local chapter has gotten involved in this foolishness. In an effort to increase his political clout, local NAACP President Christopher Smitherman has hooked his wagon to COAST's. Smitherman has said that money spent on the streetcar system could be better spent on neighborhood projects. What he's omitting is that much of the money comes from state and federal transportation grants that have restricted uses.
Even if that weren't the case, however, Smitherman's stance puts him at odds with the NAACP's national office. It approved a resolution in 2009 that said rail projects — including streetcars — provides enhanced transportation options to minorities and the poor.
Back to the streetcar: Studies have indicated the project would spark nearly $1.4 billion in new development in vacant or dilapidated properties; that means it would produce — when adjusted in today’s value — up to $2.70 in economic activity for every $1 invested. Regardless if you like the streetcar, though, the amendment is bad governance. Tying a region's metaphorical hands on which transit options may be developed for almost a decade is ridiculous. No other city in the nation has done this, and Cincinnati certainly shouldn't be the first.
Cincinnati City Council: Also, here is a reminder about the candidates for Cincinnati City Council that CityBeat endorsed last week.
We support (in alphabetical order): Kevin Flynn, Nicholas Hollan, Roxanne Qualls, Laure Quinlivan, Jason Riveiro, Chris Seelbach and Wendell Young.
Ohio polls are open 6:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 8. If you have questions about voting in Hamilton County, check out www.hamilton-co.org/BOE or call the Board of Elections at 513-632-7000. Also, in-person early voting at the board’s offices is available at various times through Election Day. Call for more details.