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John Kasich & Scott Walker on Ohio's Uphill Battle Against Govt. Unions

Six reasons why collective bargaining reform will likely fail in the Buckeye state.

1:21 PM, Nov 6, 2011 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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“I hear from voters all the time who say to me, I didn’t know why you did this, but you know what I really, really like the fact that the reforms are working," Walker said. 

(4) While both states faced protests, Ohio's was relatively calm compared to Wisconsin's. The spectacle of Wisconsin Democratic state senators fleeing to Illinois to block a vote and protesters occupying the Capitol building for weeks on end may have sparked a backlash.

Or, in Scott Walker's opinion, the protests and accompanying media attention helped Republicans better explain the case for limiting collective bargaining. “I don’t know if there was a backlash," he says. "I think what it did more than anything is that it drew more attention and as people paid more attention over time. They got to see how rational the reforms were and how irrational the opposition was.” 

(5) Collective bargaining reform was a more important tool needed to help Wisconsin solve its deficit problem. "The largest single piece of our budget is aid to local governments" and school districts, says Walker. Closing Wisconsin's $3.6 billion deficit, therefore, necessarily required a large cut in state aid to schools and local governments.

Not so in Ohio. "If this thing were to go down it doesn't affect our [state] budget," Kasich says. Ohio Republicans closed an $8 billion budget shortfall without cutting aid to local schools or raising taxes. But aid to local governments will be reduced from $1.3 billion to $925 million, according to Ohio's Office of Management and Budget. If the collective bargaining reform is repealed, it just means that local governments will have a more difficult time absorbing those cuts and balancing their budgets. If local unions refuse to pay more for health insurance and pensions, town officials will have to choose between raising taxes and laying off public workers (for which the unions will blame Kasich).

“If you look at state taxes, we’re improving that situation," Kasich explains. "But when you combine that with local taxes we just kind of shoot to the top of heavy tax states.” Although Ohio's population growth has remained flat over the past decade, local taxes have increased from from $14.1 billion in 1999 to $20 billion 2009, according to Ohio's Office of Management and Budget. 

“Local public employees in some cases pay zero for their health care and their guaranteed pensions," says Kasich. "It’s important to hand tools to local communities so they can control their costs."

Kasich's reasoning makes sense. But when voters see that the state budget has already been balanced without the collective bargaining reform in place, they may not see why it's necessary.

(6) The biggest reason why the collective bargaining reform survived in Wisconsin but likely won't in Ohio, according to Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown, is that "in Wisconsin, [voters] can’t repeal the law, [they] can only repeal the person." Wisconsin Republicans narrowly won a proxy battle over the collective bargaining bill in a Supreme Court race last April, and held on to the state senate in August. But "collective bargaining" was not the only issue in those races. If voters had a clean shot at Walker's reform in a referendum it might very well go down.

Brown points out that Ohio's law is a mixed blessing for Kasich. While voters have the power to repeal his collective bargaining reform, he cannot be recalled. "Perhaps in 2014, Ohio will be in better fiscal shape, and he'll be able to say this is what I did," says Brown. “But today he’s not very popular." Of course, it may difficult for Kasich to regain his popularity with unions unchecked an local governments in Ohio struggling to balance their budgets.

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