When it comes to state ballot issues, I am a tough customer to please. I expect amendments to the Ohio Constitution to deal with constitutional matters, and not specific issues such as casino gambling and livestock welfare. I expect the Ohio Constitution to be flexible enough to enable the General Assembly or the people of Ohio to enact statutes to deal with specific issues, which may be modified or repealed when needed without having to return to the voters.
The Ohio Constitution is littered with amendments like the ones we are considering Nov. 3. Amendments to Article VIII alone make up one-third of the bulk of the document, and were inserted there because voters found the original language having to do with contracting debt to be excessively rigid.
The overall experience suggests (1) that the Ohio Constitution needs to grant the General Assembly broader powers to create debt, on the condition that contracting such debts must receive a favorable majority vote in a referendum; and (2) the Ohio Constitution needs to be made more difficult to amend. One idea would be to require a supermajority (say three-fifths) to vote Yes before an amendment is added to the Constitution. With these two reforms, we could streamline the Constitution and ensure that future ballot issues be considered only on their merits.
Issue 1 is to create a "sinking fund" to pay bonuses to veterans of the Persian Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan wars. I sympathize with those who believe that veterans should receive appreciation for their service to country; but, as things stand now, veterans support should be placed squarely in the hands of the federal government. The feds sent them to war, let the feds reward them. The state is not in a financial position to do anything as luxurious as making payments to veterans; and the provision does not belong in the Constitution, as I stated earlier. However, Ohioans have done this for veterans of every war since World War I, so I expect to lose this battle.
Issue 2 is to create a Livestock Care Standards Board. Ohio has more than 400 boards and commissions. Why do we need one for this purpose? The idea is noble enough. We want our farm animals to be humanely treated (which by the way, will result in a better quality of food), but why can't we just set the standards in the Ohio Revised Code, and let the Attorney General sue those who are in violation? Why do we have to establish a bureaucracy? There is also some evidence to suggest that this is an attempt by agribusiness to circumvent the more stringent standards that would likely follow an investigation by the American Humane Society slated for next year. This argument was well presented by Patricia A. Powers in a letter to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch Oct. 10.
Issue 3 is to erect casinos in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, and Toledo. I am personally opposed to any casinos in the State of Ohio. Not only is it immoral for the state to make millions of dollars off the weaknesses of its people*, it is bad public policy, because those who do fall prey to gambling addiction will require social services at taxpayer expense. In addition, taxpayers end up footing large bills for additional police security that comes from an increase in criminal activity around casinos.
The proponents of Issue 3 cite the impact the casinos will have on the Ohio economy. I don't believe their numbers are realistic (35,000 new jobs in only four casinos?); but experience with our lottery and of casinos in other states shows that the revenues received usually prove to be less than projected.
If these arguments against Issue 3 do not persuade you, maybe this one will. Your adoption of Issue 3 will essentially grant a monopoly to one large corporation to operate four casinos in Ohio (the ballot language even gives the addresses where they are to be located!). Why should any one enterprise be granted such a favor? If we must have casinos in Ohio, why not open it up to free enterprise – anyone can operate a casino as long as they follow the appropriate regulations and pay the taxes? Wouldn't consumers benefit from competition among casinos, just as they benefit from competition in everything else? Don't want a casino in your backyard? Make it subject to a form of local option, as we do with bars and carryouts for liquor.
However, we wouldn't even be discussing this as a Constitutional amendment if Ohioans had not repeatedly made it clear that we don't want casino gambling in this state! Obviously, the big gambling interests are hoping that they will wear us down. Another triumph of greed over sound policy.
Official information from the Secretary of State on the ballot issues.
* The state already does this with the lottery and the cigarette and alcohol taxes. I would cheerfully vote for repeal of the lottery; but can live with the excise taxes as a better (if less productive) way to raise revenues than, say, the income tax; but I'm not confident that I'll see any changes in the foreseeable future.
Update Oct. 14: Joe Hallett of the Columbus Dispatch wrote an excellent column last Sunday strengthening my position on Issue 3, in which he notes the harmful effect that casinos have on neighboring businesses, particularly in areas like Columbus' Arena District or Cleveland's The Flats.