Gov. John Kasich today presented his first State of the State speech, which will be confronted by some of the largest protests in Ohio’s recent history.
The speech was interrupted at least one by jeering from the few protesters in the crowd…which, of course, was predictable. But, Kasich handled it well.
“Frankly, folks, the provisions of collective bargaining reform are examples of what we wanted to do to allow people to control their costs,” Kasich said as boos rained down from protesters watching in the chamber. He then addressed the passion of protesters gathered in and outside the state house whose chants could be heard at other points during the speech. “I appreciate passionate people who don’t agree with us… People who feel strongly, I respect them, but they also need to respect those who don’t always agree with them, Ok?” he said to extended applause from Republicans.
The protests are largely against several of Kasich’s proposals to reign in collective bargaining rights for public sector unions. Under the bill, unionized public workers in Ohio could negotiate wages, hours and certain work conditions, but not health care or pension benefits. The measure would do away with automatic pay raises and base future wage increases on merit. It also would ban strikes by public workers and establish penalties for those who do participate in walkouts.
The reality is, the protests are somewhat meaningless. Republicans hold significant majorities in the House and Senate, and thus can pass whatever they want, even over Democrat opposition. There are no potential ‘fleebaggers’ in Ohio…the writing is on the wall, and Kasich will get his bill passed.
Most pundits nationwide accept that public sector unions have garnered too much power in recent decades. Many of those unions now prohibit real reform necessary to improve the way government works.
Unlike in Wisconsin, however, Gov. Kasich is not eliminating collective bargaining…merely restricting it. Although this does not mean much to the unions per se, politically it is a much easier see than what Scott Walker is trying to accomplish. Additionally, no one questions the $8 billion hole left in Ohio’s budget that Kasich must somehow close. This is the first step in reigning in those deficits.
Kasich’s argument is strong. The facts simply cannot be argued with. Ohio has lost 600,000 jobs in the past decade, including at least 400,000 during this recession. One third of all college graduates from Ohio ultimately leave the state.
Ohio, like many industrial midwestern states, has grown to be uncompetitive, and far from attractive to new business. Although now wholly because of unions, union power in these states is detrimental. If you look at states with the fastest job growth over the past two decades, they are largely states without entrenched public and private sector unions.
Kasich’s proposals would not eliminate collective bargaining on salary, but would allow local districts flexibility in handling issues such as pensions, which have grown out of control. The average private sector employee pays 23% of his pension costs, while the average public sector employee pays only 9%. That takes into account that public sector employees are paid approximately $2,300 more than their private sector colleagues for the same job…amounting to about 5% more salary overall.
Kasich and Republicans will easily win Round 1. Unlike in Wisconsin, the legislature is their hands, and the Democrats can do little to fight this battle. Kasich, additionally, has long term ties with blue collar and union workers in the state, which should lessen the political blow. Ultimately, it will come down to whether these reforms help Ohio narrow their budget gap, and allow the state to once again lead the nation in job growth.
But politically, round 1 goes to Gov. John Kasich.