Week three: State ballot
There are four statewide issues on the November ballot in Ohio. (Issue 1, workers’ compensation reform, was recently removed from the ballot and will not appear in November’s election.) Each has proponents and opponents, both of which will be discussed below. Unless otherwise stated, the information in this editorial is derived from the Ohio Issues Report available at the Secretary of State’s Web site at www.sos.state.oh.us and the Ballot Issues’ Pros and Cons from the League of Women voters at www.lwvohio.org.
ISSUE 2: Increase Minimum Wage
This issue is a constitutional amendment. If passed it would increase the minimum wage for most workers in Ohio from the current $5.15 to $6.85 beginning Jan. 1, 2007. It also includes a provision that would increase minimum wage annually to take into account inflation.
In addition to increasing the minimum wage, the amendment would require businesses keep records of employee information including hours and pay rate for at least three years.
A NO VOTE
Opponents say the increased record-keeping the amendment would require will cause an expensive burden for the government and employers who must comply. They also say the increased minimum wage will trigger lay-offs among the lowest paid Ohioans, and they take issue with the permanence a constitutional amendment implies.
A YES VOTE
Supporters say the minimum wage in Ohio has not kept up with the rising cost of living. They contend that today a full-time minimum wage worker brings home less than $11,000 per year. They also point to the fact that 22 other states have raised their minimum wage above the federal rate and created more overall job growth.
It’s hard to argue with the facts: You can’t live a decent standard of living on minimum wage. If you work full time and have a family of two or more, you aren’t even above the federal poverty line. Although a jump of about $3,000 a year isn’t going to make anybody rich, it will make a difference in the standard of living and ability to get by for the hundreds of thousands Ohio workers who are paid minimum wage.
There is some validity to the argument that this will cost employers more money and potentially create fewer jobs. However, the smallest businesses are exempt, and for the majority of employers, the extra few thousand dollars will hardly break the bank. We recommend voting “yes” on Issue 2.
ISSUE 3: Learn and Earn/Gambling
This constitutional amendment would permit more than 31,000 slot machines to be placed in Ohio, mostly at racetracks but also at two non-track locations in Cleveland.
The money raised would be distributed as follows: 55 percent would go to casino owners and operators and 30 percent to the State Board of Regents, mostly for college scholarships and grants, which would supplement, and not replace, existing higher education funding. The remaining 15 percent would be split among local governments, the tracks, gambling addiction services and a newly created Gaming Integrity Commission.
A NO VOTE
Opponents of the amendment say it will benefit only a few businesses and is too detailed to be put into the constitution. They also claim it will not aid students as much because most of the tax-exempt money raised will go back to the owners and casino developers, who will essentially have a monopoly. They claim that in the process, the new slot machines will increase the number of gambling addicts as well as drain income from local economies.
They also are concerned that there is no set guideline on the value of the scholarships or when they will be paid. The wording only states that for 12 years the top 5 percent of each graduating class will qualify.
A YES VOTE
Supporters say the revenue raised would provide thousands of Ohio high school students with scholarships to attend Ohio universities. They contend that the money raised by this amendment would create additional funds for higher education.
They also claim that Ohioans spend billions of dollars on gambling in neighboring states and Canada that, if kept in state, would aid the state’s economy.
Although we believe gambling should be legalized in Ohio – why should we send valuable money to out-of-state casinos when we could use the money at home – this constitutional amendment is definitely not the way to go about it. It effectively establishes a constitutional monopoly for the seven race tracks and two Cleveland businesses named. There’s also the issue of how much money it would actually raise for students and for how long it would be doled out. We’re not convinced this will do more good than harm. We recommend voting “no” on Issue 3.
ISSUE 4: Smoke Less Ohio
This constitutional amendment would allow smoking only in tobacco stores, private residences, separate smoking sections in restaurants, most bars, bingo halls, bowling alleys, separated areas in hotels and nursing homes and at race tracks.
It would also overturn and prevent in the future any local smoking ordinances.
A NO VOTE
Opponents say Smoke Less Ohio is pro-tobacco industry and doesn’t do enough to protect workers and customers from second-hand smoke in businesses where smoking would still be permitted. This health risk contributes to higher health care costs.
Also, they argue this amendment would overturn 21 already passed, more stringent, local laws throughout Ohio. It would also override Issue 5, Smoke Free Ohio, if both were passed.
A YES VOTE
Supporters claim this amendment would effectively ban smoking in 90 percent of Ohio businesses. They say it respects the rights of both smokers and non-smokers and allows the exempted business owners to determine whether to become smoke-free or to continue to allow smoking in a way an all-out ban couldn’t.
ISSUE 5: Smoke Free Ohio
This proposed law would place in the Ohio Revised Code restrictions on smoking in most public places and places of employment. Private residences; family businesses; tobacco stores; some hotel rooms, private clubs and patios; as well as smoking areas in nursing homes would be exempt from the law.
A NO VOTE
Opponents argue that Smoke Free Ohio is too restrictive and equates to a near-total ban on smoking in the state. They claim this is an intrusion into the lives of private citizens and business owners, eliminating the ability to make their own decision on the smoking issue. They also worry about making up for the lost revenue from taxes on cigarettes.
A YES VOTE
Supporters say this law would protect customers and employees from the danger of second-hand smoke, helping to minimize the health care costs associated with it. They also say that studies have shown there is no negative economic impact on business caused by smoking bans.
OUR VIEW (ISSUES 4 AND 5)
Although less smoking is a noble goal, we don’t believe this is the goal of Smoke Less Ohio, the nickname of Issue 4. To put it bluntly, Issue 4 is shady. The people behind it seem to have the interests of tobacco companies ahead of the interests of the average person.
This constitutional amendment would make null and void any laws already passed by local governments. It also would prevent local governments from establishing their own guidelines on where smoking is permitted within their city or town in the future. It basically forces cities that have already taken a step forward to take a few back. And, because it will be put into the state constitution, it will make overturning or amending it in the future that much harder.
This is a ploy by Big Tobacco to confuse voters, and we’re not buying it. We recommend voting “no” on Issue 4.
Smoke Free Ohio, the nickname of Issue 5, is much more on target with where we think the state should go – minimizing the impact of second-hand smoke on non-smokers. In bars and restaurants, smokers can live without a cigarette for a few hours, or they can step outside to have one if they must. This respects their rights as well as the right of everyone to breathe clean air. It also brings everyone in the state up to the same level of regulation. We recommend voting “yes” on Issue 5.
The above editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Kent Stater editorial board. One member of the board abstained from this discussion because he covers the election for a class.