And if the opposition to SB 5 does turn out in an off-year election to vote “no” on Ohio Issue 2 , after gathering an all-time state record of 1.3 million signatures on petitions, what exactly has influenced and incited so many?
Certainly, Gov. John Kasich hasn’t helped his cause. His pro-Wall Street, pro-business, pro-privatization, anti-union ideology isn’t flying high during this “Occupy Wall Street” era. Calling a police officer an “idiot” and also wishing to “break the back of the teachers’ union” doesn’t help either.
Brian Hester, an attorney who lives in Hamilton and writes under the moniker “ModernEsquire” for Plunderbund.com, one of Ohio’s most popular blogs for state politics, believes there is another factor — actually a question — also being weighed by the SB 5 opposition, which happens to include hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Ohio’s private sector workers. (Keep in mind, only 3 percent of Ohio’s workforce is in the public sector.) The factor: Why hasn’t Gov. Kasich promoted any policies to help boost the wages, benefits and job security of private employees to match those of government employees?
Some have argued the state and its corporations essentially don’t have the money to equal government employees’ pay and benefits. Hester rejects that premise, and one reason is because Ohio grants $7.5 billion a year in tax exemptions, credits and deductions to various businesses.
“Of course there’s enough money to boost the private sector,” Hester says. “Companies are making record profits, but they’re still not hiring. That is a fact. Guaranteed pension, affordable healthcare and job security is keeping us from creating jobs? That’s ludicrous.”
A “yes” vote on Issue 2 would keep Senate Bill No. 5 intact, as it requires public workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health-insurance premiums and 10 percent of their pay toward their pensions. It also eliminates binding arbitration for most public employees to settle contract disputes and bans public workers from striking.
Supporting SB 5 is the Cincinnati USA Chamber of Commerce, which advocates on behalf of the region’s 5,000 businesses. Matt Davis, vice president of government affairs, says the chamber has supported many of SB 5’s components long before it became law.
“Ohio is ranked 47th in growth and second in job loss,” he says. “Economic development or job creation is a full-contact sport. To bring a job here, you have to take it from someplace else. You have to have the right environment for a business to say, ‘This looks like a solid environment for me to set up my business because it has the right services, a competitive tax structure and a climate where I can see my business grow.’”
A prime example of out-of-control government spending, Davis adds, is the city of Cincinnati’s personnel costs, which is 83 percent of the city’s $340 million annual budget. And because of past collective bargaining, 90 percent of that 83 percent in personnel costs is untouchable, he says.
“When the city manager sits down and tries to put a budget together, that is right now $30 to $40 million under water, he can’t touch 90 percent of that 83 percent of the budget,” Davis says. “So, what does that leave the city of Cincinnati with? Two very bad options: Either raise taxes or cut services. And what’s going to make communities safer? Having police officers pay 15 percent of their health care or have less of them on the street?”
Meanwhile, “We Are Ohio” is the well-funded, union-backed grassroots effort to repeal SB 5. Some of the unions involved are the Ohio Education Association, which has chipped in $5 million, and the Ohio Association of Professional Firefighters, which has given $87,000. As of mid-October, We Are Ohio has outspent its grassroots opponent, the pro-SB 5 “Building a Better Ohio,” by a five-to-two margin on TV ad time.
But while We Are Ohio has disclosed its backers and their contributions, Building a Better Ohio is keeping its financial backers a secret. Also pumping an unknown amount of money into keeping SB 5 on the books is the Tea Party-linked Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, two groups backed by the notorious Koch brothers.
We Are Ohio wonders why private corporations are supporting SB 5, as it’s meant to reign in the wages and benefits of public employees.
Melissa Fazekas, a We Are Ohio spokeswoman, says the answer is the elephant in the room: She believes corporations, some not even based in Ohio, are circling the state’s 360,000-plus government jobs and salivating at the chance to privatize some of them, subsequently profiting off taxpayer dollars after the government jobs they’ve taken are gutted of their fair wages and benefits.
“Senate Bill 5 makes it illegal for public employees to come to the table to fight against privatization,” Fazekas says. “Prison workers, turnpike employees and lotto employees are in the line of fire here.”
Another veiled strategy to promote SB 5, Hester believes, is coming straight from the Governor’s Office. In August, the state’s Third Frontier Commission, a government-funded effort to expand research and technology development in Ohio, awarded $2 million to the Cincinnati USA Partnership, a regional economic development initiative directed by the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber.
The $2 million it received will be used in a team effort with JobsOhio, Kasich’s newly created private economic development arm of the Ohio Department of Development that will oversee job creation. JobsOhio, criticized by some as unconstitutional, is funded with public money but exempt from public-records and open meetings laws.
Hester believes the $2 million given to the Cincinnati USA Partnership from the Third Frontier Commission, whose current members were appointed by Kasich, was intended as payola to convince the Chamber to endorse SB 5 and a “yes” vote on Issue 2.
“It just stinks,” Hester says.
While the backers of SB 5 still could pull off a stunning upset, no doubt the governor’s zeal has energized liberals, partially because SB 5 has inspired “a lot of new blood” — police officers and firemen who typically would vote Republican — to move to the Left, Hester says.
“Senate Bill 5 has officially changed their political paradigm,” he adds. “Last year, they were Tea Partiers and they are generally conservative guys.”
Hester concedes, however, that if SB 5 is repealed, Ohio’s Republican leadership might try to pass into law certain elements of SB 5, such as merit pay instead of seniority-based raises for teachers.
Then again, Hester says national GOP insiders are quietly wondering how Kasich is going to react if SB 5 is repealed. Conciliatory, humble, dismissive or vindictive?
Hester adds, “They don’t want Kasich to be the reason Obama takes Ohio next year.”