When first-term Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 5 into law on March 31, 2011, he was doing what he thought was best to help his state deal with an estimated $8 billion budget deficit. But he was also aware that the legislation -- which will substantially take away some power from 350,000 public workers, including teachers, law enforcement officers and firefighters in Ohio -- would stir up a huge political battle in his state, and he was clearly willing to take on that fight. The reasons why this legislation -- which will be contested through a statewide referendum -- is necessary now has not been fairly and thoroughly reported in much of the mass media in or out of Ohio. It is time to set the record straight, to present the true facts of the dangerous budget deficit in Ohio, and to reveal the truth about Senate Bill 5 -- separating the facts from the myths that the media and others have put forward.
The Real Story of Ohio's Budget Shortfall
While many citizens and a controversy-hungry media focus on the referendum that will be held in the fall, 2011, providing that the proper number of bona fide registered voters sign the petitions, the media has seemed to lose sight of the facts in this issue. First, the budget deficit that Ohioans face is a major fiscal and social issue that has to be faced. The governor along with the legislature have ultimate responsibility for the health, safety, and well being of the citizens of Ohio. And the budget that is passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor is designed to meet the fiscal obligations and the social obligations of the state.
According to SunshineReview.org (SR.org), a non-profit group that Ohio operates on a biennium, which means its budges cover not one year, but two years at a time. Currently, Ohio's fiscal budget situation is in its second year; the budget went from July 1, 2009, to June 20, 2010 / and year two was from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011. As with other states, and the federal government, both the House and the Senate in Ohio must approve the budget bill before it is sent to the governor for his signature. The law in Ohio "forbids the carrying over of a deficit from one year to the next," SR. org explains, and that's part of the problem that the governor and the members of the legislator face.
Meantime, the budget deficit ("shortfall") for the next biennium (beginning July 1, 2011) is estimated to be $8 billion. But, the Sunshine Review group asserts, the total state debt, in real terms, is more like $68,961,315,845 (nearly $69 billion) when "calculated by adding the "total of outstanding debt, pension and OPEB UAAL's unemployment trust funds and the 2010 budget gap as of July 2010." Given this huge budget gap, whether it is $68 billion or $8 billion, something had to be done.
The Sunshine group notes that one area the government could use in closing the gap is to pass legislation to cut back on public employees' healthcare benefits and pensions. Sunshine Review reports that the "median personal income for all Ohioans is $31,284, but public employees of the state of Ohio lad a median pay about 33% higher at $41,350 last year." Moreover, when the average taxpayer sees that some public employees ("nearly 1,000) earned more than $100,000 in 2010 (and that doesn't include state workers employed at Ohio State University and other universities and colleges, many of whom are very well paid), there is a desire on the part of those taxpayers to bring those expenses down in some way to meet the $8 billion budget shortfall.
The Senate Bill 5 was actually introduced by Senator Shannon Jones; the Ohio Senate approved the bill, 53-44, on March 30, 2011, and Kasich signed it into law on March 31st. A review of what the bill will do will be provided a bit later in this Op-Ed piece. The groups that are lining up to oppose the bill include the Ohio teacher's unions, police unions, and others. After introducing the bill, Senator Jones said, "The reality is, in the state of Ohio, we're out of money.…