PROPONENTS and opponents of two state ballot issues have been trading accusations for weeks, leaving many voters in a quandary about what to believe and how to vote as they head to the polls on Nov. 4.
The battle over Issue 6, which would open the doors to Ohio's first gambling casino, has been especially contentious. But Issue 5, which addresses the interest rates so-called payday lenders can charge, is equally important as more and more Ohioans experience difficulty making ends meet, let alone dealing with financial emergencies.
Time and again, Ohio voters have made clear their opposition to legalized gambling. But proponents keep coming back with schemes that promise to fill state and local coffers but are guaranteed to do only one thing: make the gambling entrepreneurs very, very wealthy. We're betting that once voters understand what's at stake, they'll see through the illusion of quick riches and vote NO on Issue 6.
Issue 6 is more than the latest in a long line of these issues. This is an attempt to create a monopoly by enshrining one gambling house, near Wilmington in southwest Ohio, in the state Constitution. Remarkably, backers of the issue, a group of Cleveland-area developers, not only want their casino written into the Constitution, they want to decide their own tax rate and potentially even reduce their tax rate to zero if a Native American casino opens elsewhere in the state. With their promise of jobs and millions in revenue to be divided among the 88 counties, their hope is that voters will see a casino as a quick fix for the state's struggling economy.
Do not be deceived. Casinos invariably bring with them many social problems, including increased crime, prostitution, and a rise in gambling addiction, which destroys families and lives. Ohio's economy cannot be rebuilt by taking advantage of human frailty, only by encouraging industries that create good jobs producing beneficial products. And its Constitution should not be cluttered with special-interest provisions.
Perhaps more nefarious than gambling's false promise of instant riches are businesses that under the guise of providing short-term loans for cash-strapped consumers take advantage of personal misfortune by charging usurious interest rates that often trap their customers in a cycle of debt. To prevent these predatory lenders from continuing to charge the astonishing annual interest rate of 391 percent, vote YES on Issue 5.
In a rare bit of bipartisanship, the General Assembly earlier this year approved consumer-friendly House Bill 545, which restricted the annual interest rate payday lenders can charge on short-term loans to 28 percent, a figure still higher than that charged by many lenders. The bill, which also limits short-term loans to a maximum of $500 and gives borrowers more time to repay their loans, is designed to protect unwary Ohioans, often among the state's poorest and most vulnerable, from lending agencies only a mafia loan-shark could love.
Opponents would have voters believe that 6,000 jobs will be lost if H.B. 545 goes into effect because payday lenders can't keep their doors open charging "only" 28 percent interest. They say the issues at stake are financial freedom, privacy, and not limiting lending options.
Don't believe them. Loans still will be available to people who need them but at an interest rate that, while still high, will be comparable to that charged by credit card companies. Unscrupulous lenders will simply be prevented from profiting excessively from the misfortunes of people with few resources.
In an attempt to streamline the system by which citizen-initiated issues make it to the ballot, lawmakers are proposing a change to the state Constitution that would require petitions for such issues to be filed earlier than is currently required, revises before deadlines for county boards of elections to validate petition signatures, and give the Ohio Supreme Court jurisdiction over challenges to the petitions.
The results of these changes will be to reduce waste, as taxpayer dollars will no longer be spent on issues that never make it to the ballot; improve voter confidence by resolving challenges earlier before ballots are printed, and improve the efficiency of elections by establishing clear deadlines for filing, review, and challenges to ballot issues. For smoother elections, vote YES on Issue 1.
This issue to continue to conserve natural and wildlife habitats, preserve the state's family farms, and clean up contaminated industrial sites will not raise taxes. Issue 2, which has the support of both Democratic and Republican leaders, authorizes the sale of up to $400 million in bonds that will be repaid out of existing state revenues to fund the continuation of the Clean Ohio program. Supporters say continued brownfield cleanup and redevelopment will result in nearly $2.6 billion in private investment, creating 15,000 permanent jobs across Ohio.
Since 2000, the Clean Ohio program has cleaned up 173 polluted sites, preserved 26,000 acres of wildlife habitat and 20,000 acres of family farms, and created 216 miles of recreational walking and bicycle trails statewide. Toledo received nearly $3 million to clean up the old Libbey-Owens-Ford Co. waste ponds and now the 37-acre site along the Maumee River is ready for commercial development. Clean Ohio funds also were used to prepare the sites of the Marina District and the downtown arena projects, ventures that are expected to create hundreds of permanent jobs for the city. In all, the 17-county northwest Ohio area has received more than $41 million through Clean Ohio.
The bottom line is that this ballot proposal, which re-funds the program as part of Gov. Ted Strickland's $1.57 billion economic stimulus package, continues a successful endeavor that has created 14,000 permanent jobs and 100,000 temporary construction jobs while costing Ohioans not one penny in new taxes. In the current economy, it is more important than ever to make our dollars do double duty. Vote YES on Issue 2 to create jobs, reclaim urban land for development, and preserve habitats, open spaces, and family farms.
As we noted above, the state Constitution is not a frivolous document to be revised at the drop of a hat. Yet, backers of Issue 3 would like voters to put into the state's governing document protections involving private water rights which already are written into state law and affirmed by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Proponents of Issue 3, which addresses concerns among some that the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact does not adequately protect property rights, argue that it merely affirms property owners' interest in the water beneath their land as well as the lakes, rivers, or streams along which their property resides. The issue will ensure, they say, that Ohio will continue to protect water-use rights for all residents of the state.
But amending the Constitution is unnecessary and adds no further protection for property owners, who may believe falsely that approving this issue will mean they own the water that flows through, alongside, or under their property. In fact, property owners have never owned that water but have a right to its reasonable use that has been confirmed by the state's high court. The state maintains the right to regulate the use of water and to take it for reasonable compensation.
Because it adds nothing to the rights of Ohioans but creates a false sense of security while unnecessarily cluttering the Constitution, we urge a vote of NO on Issue 3.
To reiterate: Vote YES on Issue 1 to streamline the ballot-initiative process; vote YES on Issue 2 to create jobs, reclaim urban land, and preserve habitats, family farms, and open spaces; vote NO on Issue 3 to avoid unnecessary changes to the state Constitution; vote YES on Issue 5 to protect consumers from unscrupulous lenders charging 391 percent annual interest on loans, and, by all means, vote NO on Issue 6 to keep a gambling casino monopoly from being enshrined in the Ohio Constitution.