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Cincinnati Voters React to Pension Assault: Not 'No,' but 'Hell No'

Photo courtesy Bill Roehl

In one of the biggest working family victories in Tuesday's elections, Cincinnati voters overwhelmingly defeated a city charter amendment that would've eliminated defined-benefit pensions for city workers and replaced them with defined-contribution plans. How overwhelming were the voters in rejecting the assault on public pensions? By a margin of 78%–22%. Yes, only 22% of the electorate in Cincinnati, not exactly a liberal bastion, supported cutting public pensions. Maybe those who are pushing the anti-pension agenda across the country should take notice.

As previously reported, a group of mostly out-of-state tea party activists, including the Liberty Initiative Fund from Virginia, succeeded in gathering enough signatures to put the initiative on yesterday's ballot. The plan, if it had passed, would have eliminated the city's pension fund for any future hires, replacing it with 401(k)-style private funds directed by individual employees, effectively privatizing the pension system. Many of the city employees who would've been in the new plans are not eligible for Social Security and would have had no safety net to fall back on if the stock market did poorly or they failed to successfully manage their new accounts. The plan, if it had been put in place, would have forced the city to cut city services more than 40% or raise taxes and sell city assets to cover cost increases that would've resulted from the amendment.

Early on, working families activists pulled together a powerful coalition that included the Ohio AFL-CIO, Ohio Association of Professional Fire Fighters, Progress Ohio, the Cincinnati AFL-CIO, AFSCME Council 8, Alliance for Retired Americans and faith leaders. The group quickly exposed the ballot measure for what it was, an out-out-state "foreign" tea party initiative, and educated the public on how harmful this would be for the taxpayers, retirees and city's finances. 

National Public Pension Coalition Executive Director Jordan Marks said via a press release:

Yesterday, the voters of Cincinnati stood against the tea party and supported a secure retirement by defeating Issue 4, which would have eliminated traditional pensions. This was a vote in support of working families, and a vote to ensure that workers are able to retire with dignity. Issue 4 was just one of many attacks on retirement security, and we are grateful to the voters of Cincinnati for putting their foot down on a risky retirement scheme.

Peter McLinden, Cincinnati-area regional director at AFSCME Ohio Council 8, added:

Today's vote will be heard beyond Cincinnati and sends a message for those on the ideological extremes who think it is OK to impose their agenda on an entire city. Had this passed, outside money and political extremists would have cost Cincinnati taxpayers more money, with less services....That said we all are dedicated to working together moving forward to fix the pension system in a way that is in the best interest of Cincinnati public employees and taxpayers.

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