COLUMBUS, Ohio Ã¢â‚¬â€ Payday lenders won an argument with the Ohio Ballot Board Thursday that they couldn't win with the Legislature Ã¢â‚¬â€ that payday loans shouldn't be described using the high annual percentage rate that has come to define the industry.
The panel that decides how ballot issues are worded agreed it would be misleading to tell voters that payday lenders would be able to charge rates and fees equivalent to 391 percent annually if part of a new law is repealed. The omission of the high annual rate, which the federal government recognizes, was a significant victory for payday lenders in their ongoing attempt to fight the enactment of one of the strictest payday lender laws in the nation.
The back-and-forth over the complicated payday issue forced the Ballot Board to postpone work on a separate issue that would ask voters whether they want many Ohio businesses to be required to give full-time workers seven paid sick days each year. The board approved wording for another issue asking voters whether they want a casin0 in Clinton County in southwest Ohio. Signatures to place the casin0 and sick days issues on the ballot are waiting approval from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner.
If the payday industry gathers enough petition signatures to challenge the law restricting its business, the referendum that will be presented to voters on the November ballot will contain no mention of 391 percent. Instead, it would tell voters that if they reject a portion of the law restricting the industry, payday lenders would be able to charge rates and fees that "substantially exceed" a 28 percent annual rate. The 28 percent is the cap placed in the law approved this year by the Legislature.
The lenders have long argued that their product is a short-term loan that shouldn't be evaluated using a long-term measure.
Bill Todd, an attorney for the payday industry, said the measure of an annual percentage rate shouldn't be applied to loans that are generally two weeks long, and require the customer to pay back $115 for $100 borrowed.
"All I know is when I am a borrower, I know what I borrow and I know what I want to pay back," Todd said. "And if those are the two things that are important to me, all this fancy gobbledygook ... doesn't really help me. I'm trying to borrow money."
Opponents of the payday industry were unhappy with the Ballot Board's decision because they said it didn't provide an "apples-to-apples" comparison between what lenders could charge if the law stood or if it was repealed.
The Board decided to include the 28 percent figure in the ballot wording because it was defined in the law approved by the Legislature and signed by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland.
"They failed in what they said they wanted to do, which is a clear and concise statement for the vote," said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, which is fighting the repeal of the law. "If you have a calculator and a copy of the Revised Code, you might figure out what this thing means."
Faith and other opponents of the payday industry were also upset that a "yes" vote on the referendum would support the crackdown on the industry, while a "no" vote would enable payday lenders to return to business as usual. They preferred to be on the "no" side because voters historically have been more likely to pick that option when voting on ballot issues.
Payday lenders still have obstacles ahead, including gathering the necessary number of signatures. Strickland, Republican House Speaker Jon Husted and Republican Senate President Bill Harris have announced they will be campaigning against the industry