I’m leaning heavily on the Akron Beacon Journal to help guide my decision making here. It’s a newspaper that I know, with an editorial page that endorsed Obama for president, writing:
What appeals about Obama is his tone and understanding about how to advance American interests. John McCain mocks Obama for appearing too eager to engage the likes of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran. Listen carefully, and you won’t hear Obama pushing something careless. He has surveyed the past eight years and recognized that attempting simply to isolate and punish adversaries is counterproductive in today’s complex and interconnected world. You engage to force hard choices. You listen to gain respect and build influence.
So, without further ado, my choices for the state ballot initiatives. Feel free to cut along the dotted lines and take this with you into the voting booth.
1. Proposed Constitutional Amendment To provide for earlier filing deadlines for statewide ballot issues:
The Akron Beacon Journal explains:
Issue 1 would standardize the deadline for submitting petitions at 125 days before Election Day instead of the current 90-day deadline, shortened to just 60 days for a referendum. The amendment would set deadlines for checking signatures and making legal challenges and give the Ohio Supreme Court jurisdiction to act quickly.
In recommending a yes vote, the Beacon Journal notes:
Voters have a chance to bring some clarity and predictability to the [election] process. Issue 1 on the statewide ballot, a constitutional amendment proposed by the legislature, would streamline and improve the process, ensuring that all issues appearing are ready for voters to decide.
Anything that brings more clarity and smoother elections in Ohio — while saving taxpayer dollars, as this would do — is a welcome enhancement.
2. Proposed Constitutional Amendment To authorize the state to issue bonds to continue the Clean Ohio program for environmental revitalization and conservation.
This amendment would authorize the state to issue $400 million worth of bonds to continue the highly successful Clean Ohio program, which has not only improved the environment, it’s attracted investment and created jobs. Endorsing the amendment, the Beacon Journal notes:
Half of the bonds would be targeted for cleaning up abandoned and polluted industrial sites, the urban brownfields. The $200 million spent so far has leveraged some $2.6 billion in public and private investment, creating 15,000 permanent jobs and 100,000 short-term construction jobs …
The other part of the Clean Ohio program provides grants for expanded greenspace. The preservation of farmland and natural areas and the expansion of parks and recreational facilities add in significant ways to the quality of life enjoyed in all parts of the state. Preservation of wild areas improves water quality and provides the habitat necessary to support fish and wildlife. In addition, the improvement of parks and trails adds to the state’s ability to attract and retain talented workers whose knowledge is needed to move the state economy forward.
Moreover, the bonds would be backed by general fund revenues, and so would not increase taxes.
3. Proposed Constitutional Amendment To amend the constitution to protect private property rights in ground water, lakes and other watercourses.
The Beacon Journal says that, while this sounds good, it’s unnecessary, and was “part of a political deal struck quickly and late.” Here’s the nut:
The proposal surfaced as part of a compromise to win legislative approval of the Great Lakes Compact. The Republican majority in the Senate insisted that the ballot issue come with its support.
An argument for the measure holds the amendment merely would restate protections already established by the courts and contained in the compact. The truth is, that contention amounts to an even stronger argument against approval. The amendment is unnecessary.
5. Referendum on legislation making changes to check cashing lending, sometimes known as ‘payday lending,’ fees, interest rates, and practices.
This one’s important — and not readily clear if you are reading it for the first time in the voting booth.
In a “stunning” defeat this summer, payday lenders lost their legislative fight to prevent caps on the interest rates they can charge on small loans. Now, they are tying to implement by referendum what they couldn’t do through legislation. The Beacon Journal writes:
The statewide referendum would be the lenders’ effort to reclaim what they lost: the opportunity to charge interest amounting to a 391 annual percentage rate on small, short-term loans.
Payday lenders would like nothing better than to drive a stake into the heart of the legislation, House Bill 545. They want voters to say ”no” on Issue 5, to reject the section of the law that imposes a 28 percent limit on payday loans.
The Beacon Journal goes on to note:
Republican leaders in the House and Senate, backed by Democrats and an array of civic groups, pushed House Bill 545 to passage. Gov. Ted Strickland swiftly signed the measure. The law slashed the annual percentage interest rate on payday loans from a loan-sharking 391 percent to 28 percent …
A ”no” would give payday lenders the go-ahead to continue business as usual. Business as usual means they can keep fleecing borrowers with astronomical interest rates, with no required minimum 30-day breathing room to repay loans. The fuzzy language on the ballot says a ”no” vote would result in a total loan charge that ”substantially exceeds an equivalent APR of 28 percent.” That means 391 percent.
A ”yes” would prohibit payday lenders from going above 28 percent. It will ensure that borrowers don’t fall victim to the slick business model that is payday lending — dependent on repeated borrowing, one loan leading to another to pay off the previous one.
6. Proposed Constitutional Amendment To amend the constitution by initiative petition for a casino near Wilmington in Southwest Ohio and distribute to all Ohio counties a tax on the casino.
This one has been getting a ton of press here in Ohio. The question boils down to: Should voters allow casino gambling in Ohio? (Which might possibly open the door for Indian gaming in the future.) Proponents are running TV ads pledging that a casino would create 5,000 jobs and generate some $200 million in revenue for the counties. I’ve heard it said that this tax revenue is currently “leaving the state,” as people exit Ohio to gamble elsewhere.
But, as the Beacon Journal notes:
In terms of economic impact, the casino would produce a net loss. Even if 5,000 jobs were created in a casino complex with a hotel, restaurants, golf course and theater, most would be low-wage, dead-end service jobs. More, studies of gambling have shown that for every $1 in economic benefits, there are roughly $3 in costs, most notably in the form of families ruined at the gaming tables.
I’m not averse to gambling on principle. I try to hit Vegas once a year with my high school buddies. But there’s a broader point here, which the Beacon Journal captures in its conclusion:
Issue 6 is a dangerous distraction at a time of economic turmoil. Voters should reject this latest gambling scheme and shift their attention to making long-term investments in education and infrastructure that promise true improvement for Ohio.
Times are tough. The last thing Ohio needs to do is double down on a casino with a dubious economic impact.
That’s my take. I’d love to hear your thoughts.