Wednesday, February 25, 2004 at 10:07 AM
Funding for Health and Human Services in Cuyahoga County is up for a vote on March 2nd. If it feels like deja vu, there's a reason. ideastream's Bill Rice has more.
Less than a year ago county officials kicked off a rousing campaign for a tax levy that pays for an array of services for impoverished children, the elderly and other low income residents. Voters passed Issue 15 last May, raising the tax on homeowners about $65 annually. So why is health and human services again up for a vote less than a year later? Lee Weingart, coordinator for the Issue 30 campaign, explains.
Lee Weingart: Historically there have been 2 levies in Cuyahoga County. This year we have Issue 30, which is the second of two levies. They both fund services for foster kids, children at risk for abuse and neglect, for seniors, people suffering from mental health diseases and from chemical addictions.
Both levies have existed side by side for the past two decades, and together raise more than $200 million a year. One provides about two thirds of that funding. The rest comes from the second levy, up for renewal this year as ballot Issue 30. Again, Lee Weingart.
Lee Weingart: If you can imagine, if it doesn't pass you would lose funding for a third of the programs. So a third fewer kids would have health care, a third fewer seniors would have access to stay in their homes longer, a third fewer folks would have access to health care at Metro Health Medical Center.
Weingart and other supporters of Issue 30 say it faces less of a challenge than did last year's Issue 15. For one thing, Issue 15 was a replacement measure: it threw out the old levy and installed a new one, increasing taxes for homeowners. Issue 30 is simply a renewal levy, meaning homeowners will continue paying the same tax they're paying now.
Lee Weingart: The commissioners have decided looking at their budget and the priorities of the community that at this time there's no need to raise property taxes, so Issue 30 is a renewal, and is not a tax increase.
Another difference, Weingart says, is that traditional supporters of the health and human services levy are fully behind Issue 30, whereas Issue 15 faced opposition by labor groups. The Cleveland AFL-CIO initially balked at supporting Issue 15, declaring itself neutral until just days before the vote. Spokesman John Ryan says the union withheld support because some private human service providers discourage union activities among their employees.
John Ryan: There's always concern especially that employers who are receiving public money do not actively fight union organizing campaigns. And that an issue we have with economic development money and that's an issue we have with levies.
That's one issue that Service Employees International Local 1199 raised when it actively campaigned against Issue 15, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on television ads. This year SEIU has been silent on Issue 30, perhaps partly because the Ohio Elections Commission ruled its ads against Issue 15 contained falsehoods, or perhaps because that campaign ultimately failed.
As for the AFL-CIO, John Ryan says it's backed Issue 30 without hesitation, despite continued resistance among some providers to union organizing.
John Ryan: We felt it was better to hold off until after the levy goes through, and then have a discussion where it's not a campaign issue, it's not about tactics, but it's about fair treatment. We feel that type of discussion will allow more people to participate, and allow us to find a meaningful way to allow workers to have their rights.
In Cleveland, Bill Rice, 90.3.