I hope Ohioans will ask themselves one question as they vote on Issue 2: Will a yes or no vote save jobs and public services, at a time when our citizens cannot bear and will not tolerate tax increases?
I offer these thoughts based on my experience as mayor of Toledo for the past two years.
In 2007, the city collected $169 million in income tax revenue. By 2009, because of the recession, those collections fell to $141 million. As a result, Toledo faced a projected $48 million deficit in our 2010 operating budget.
We expect that this year's income tax revenue will reach $153 million. But that's still $16 million less than we collected four years ago.
About 80 percent of Toledo's general fund budget goes to employee salaries, pensions, and health insurance. Money we could use to pave streets and improve parks instead pays salaries. We must reduce our expenses if we are going to make city finances sustainable.
Our loss of revenue wasn't the fault of public-employee unions. I don't blame them. The state of the economy locally, in Ohio, and across the nation has put Toledo in the situation we and other cities face.
If Toledoans aren't working and paying income tax, the city will have less revenue. But we still must balance our budget by law, and we still must serve our residents. I would prefer to keep our municipal work force on the job, rather than laying off employees who provide the vital services on which citizens rely.
I have been asked why the city doesn't negotiate needed concessions. We've tried.
Last year, when the city faced an unprecedented deficit, we asked our unions to make contract concessions to contribute to the city's fiscal solvency. We gave them full access to our books.
Most of the unions recognized Toledo was broke, but declined to help. This led to a declaration of exigent circumstances that affected five of our unions. Only after the city imposed emergency cuts did the other bargaining units come back to the table to negotiate more-preferable terms.
I would have liked the support of our unions to address our deficit, rather than imposing concessions through legislation. But Ohio's current collective-bargaining law did not give me that option. Invoking exigent circumstances saved Toledo from financial devastation.
Issue 2's success or failure at the ballot box will not change how much money the City of Toledo has. But it will give us options for allocating the funds our taxpayers provide when we are faced with difficult situations.
Many of our citizens have cut back to make ends meet. The city must do the same.
Toledo continues to face a $16 million structural budget deficit. But we are not alone in these struggles. Akron has an $87 million deficit. Cincinnati projects a $33 million deficit in 2012. Cleveland is still working to recall 100 laid-off police officers.
The current system is not working for Toledo or Ohio. We need serious change if our city is to survive. The alternative is significant layoffs, which will result in decreased services to our taxpayers and higher unemployment.
Many of you have heard the story I told in a TV commercial for Issue 2. As a new firefighter in 1980, when Toledo was financially strapped, I was laid off.
Had I been offered the alternative of paying a little more for my health insurance, or decreasing my salary a little to keep working and collecting any pay, I would have taken it. Instead, I was out of work for nine months until the city could afford to rehire me and other laid-off firefighters.
Issue 2 will save jobs and preserve services. It will give me and future mayors the tools needed to balance Toledo's budget in a strained economy without raising taxes on citizens, while maintaining fair wages and benefits for our employees.
For these reasons, I support the reforms to collective bargaining. Vote yes on Issue 2.
Michael P. Bell is mayor of Toledo.