The political commercials have already begun, and the rhetoric has become old-hat already. But this is only the beginning of what will surely be a title wave of debate throughout Ohio. Earlier this year the Ohio Senate passed Bill #5, which will controversially eliminate government workers bargaining rights, among other things. I’m still doing my research, so I’m not sure exactly how this works, but voting NO on Issue 2 in this year’s election will effectively repeal Senate Bill 5. It’s always my goal to look at such issues through the lens of my faith. So as I begin to think this whole thing through, I would love for you join me in unpacking the layers of this issue.
I believe that down in the foundations of this issue lies a philosophy debate that our entire nation is wrestling through. The question is: What should the size of government be? In its most basic form, government exists to keep order and aid the progress of the people. But progressives and conservatives disagree as to how all of this ought to be accomplished. With the vast resources of government, some worry that a dependance will develop, limiting the power of individual accomplishment. Others see those resources and wonder why they can’t be used to face the greatest needs of our country. In the state of Ohio, education is a major need. Governor Kasich, a conservative, has taken steps through Senate Bill 5 to cut costs by eliminating negotiating rights by government workers such as teachers, as well as forcing them to now pay a significantly increased amount of their health care and pension. But there’s another problem…a spending problem. The government is simply spending more than it is taking in. Is Senate Bill 5 targeting this debt crisis…or is it a step towards a new philosophy as to the role and size of government?
GOVERNMENT WORKFORCE MORALE
What motivates people more? Job and benefit security or increased competition? I’ve seen it work both ways. As a pastor in the United Methodist Church, once I become fully ordained I receive what is called “guaranteed appointment”. It works much like tenure for teachers. Barring any major infractions, I will be guaranteed a job, benefits, and housing for the length of my career. That kind of security eliminates stress, gives me freedom for creativity, and allows me to keep my integrity as a pastor rather than simply chasing after “what’s popular” (after all, Christianity calls us to a very unpopular way of life). But guaranteed appointment has also hurt the church as well. There’s not much stopping a pastor from “coasting;” working barely 30 hours as a full-time worker with little drive to be creative, engaging, and excellent overall. This dilemma has led to conversation on the denomination level, and it’s seen as a mere certainty that in the next few years “guaranteed appointment” will no longer exist.
I do not believe that schools should be entirely privatized (maybe I’ll write on that another time). So if teachers will be compensated by tax payers, the question remains as to how we can promote excellence in the classroom. Although I resonate with the competition mindset, it needs to be balanced with security. I feel as though Senate Bill 5 takes a giant leap when gradual steps are more appropriate. Teachers, police, and firefighters aren’t exactly raking in the cash, and so to all of a sudden force them to designate 10% of their compensation to pension and 15% to healthcare can really create difficulties on the monthly family budget. Also, lessening the incentive to go into these public careers could cause young people to pursue other life-paths.
THE CHURCH’S JOB VS. THE GOVERNMENT’S JOB
I realize that there tons of details and intricacies that I have missed with this Bill and the topic altogether, which is why I’m asking you to help me think through this. But let me conclude by getting back to the role and size of government issue from the perspective of faith. The Christian faith convicts me towards particular values that reflect God’s perfect order. Helping the poor, the distressed, the oppressed, and the ill is a conviction of my faith. I am called to respond to that conviction personally and corporately through the church. But if a secular system (government) claims to value those same convictions, why would I resist that? If my neighbor’s house is burning, I hope I would run in to help or do what I can…but I’d also be pretty glad when the fire truck arrives. I think personal responsibility and achievement is important, but it’s also important to have governmental systems in place to provide services for the common good. Teachers, firefighters, and policemen do just that. I just hope people remember that in advocating for smaller government, because while there is a point where government can get too big, there’s also a point where it can get too small.