Monday, October 17, 2011

GUEST COLUMN: "Improving Local Governments through SB 5" by St. Rep Terhar

St. Rep. Lou Terhar
By State Representative Louis Terhar

The spotlight shining on Senate Bill 5 has not dimmed since its passing earlier this spring. Most recently, debates and forums have been held across the state to provide even more information about the bill. If you have the chance, I recommend attending one of these debates because it can be beneficial to hear more than just one side of the argument. I think that the more people learn about Senate Bill 5, the more they will understand why it is needed and the positive, reasonable changes it can have on Ohio.

One area that needs reforming in our state—and one that Senate Bill 5 directly impacts—is local governments. You certainly don’t need me to tell you that budgets are tight. You have probably been living it—adjusting to someone in the family taking a pay cut or being laid off and reevaluating the way you spend your hard-earned money. The same is true for counties, cities and townships. When hard times hit the people, it inevitably trickles down to the governments representing them. Less tax revenue is coming in, so there is less money available to pay for vital public services. But instead of solving this problem by simply cutting large numbers of staff from public positions, Senate Bill 5 provides more reasonable solutions that can actually preserve these jobs.

By requiring public employees to pay about 15 percent of their healthcare costs and picking up 10 percent of their pensions, more tax dollars will be available to keeping these men and women on the job—fighting our fires, protecting our streets and educating our kids. Recently, the only way that local governments were able to deal with constricted budgets was to lay off workers, which, as you know, impacts us all negatively. Young workers were even more at risk of losing their jobs because of layoff policies that targeted the less-experienced, regardless of their performance.

Therein lies another positive component of the legislation—performance-based pay. Instead of having guaranteed salary step increases—which placed additional strain on dwindling public funds—Senate Bill 5 instates a system whereby a person’s intelligence, energy and efficiency in doing his or her job is considered. This creates an even playing field for all workers to display their talents. Of course, experience will still play a major role in determining who to hold onto, but only because experience usually enriches someone’s performance on the job.

Finally, as opposed to the popular rumor, SB 5 does not eliminate collective bargaining. It preserves bargaining for wages, hours and conditions of employment. Additionally, it should be mentioned that public safety workers are able to negotiate for safety equipment.

The information contained in Senate Bill 5 cannot fit into one column or one radio segment. Therefore, I encourage you to do additional research about the bill and become informed about the issues facing our state. My office is always willing to answer any of your questions and address any of the concerns you may have about Senate Bill 5 or any other piece of legislation.