By Joe Hallett, Joe Vardon and Jim Siegel
The Columbus Dispatch
When Gov. John Kasich’s pen touched paper on Senate Bill 5 on Wednesday night, nary a protester was found outside the Statehouse.
But make no mistake, the fight over collective-bargaining rights for public employees will continue.
Kasich, a Republican, put his signature on the GOP-produced legislation that removes health care and benefits from collective bargaining, makes it illegal to strike and replaces automatic pay increases with a merit-based pay system for the state’s 360,000 public workers.
Even before Kasich signed the bill, labor groups and their Democratic allies already had begun to organize the drive to collect at least 231,149 signatures of registered voters to place a referendum to repeal the bill on the Nov. 8 statewide ballot.
The stars are aligning for a fall campaign that will attract millions of dollars from labor and business groups across the country and subject Ohioans to a barrage of 30-second television ads, matching the intensity and expense of the race Kasich won last year to unseat Ted Strickland.
Kasich vowed to suit up once again, although he rejected the notion that a clear fault line has formed between those in favor of and those opposed to Senate Bill 5.
“I kind of don’t look at things in those terms,” Kasich said from the Statehouse State Room, where he signed the bill surrounded by its supporters. “There are people who are concerned about this bill. I think many of them don’t know what’s in this bill.
“When Ohioans find out that your average private worker pays 23 percent of their health-care costs and your average city worker pays 9 percent, that’s not about enemy. That’s about balance.”
At stake for Kasich and fellow GOP lawmakers who passed the bill is voter ratification of their view that the time has come to seize a historical opportunity to realign government to a size and scope that Ohioans expect and can afford. This means ending what Kasich and his allies view as too generous and unsustainable public-employee wages and benefits, and giving local elected officials more control over their budgets.
But with Kasich’s 30 percent approval rating in last week’s Quinnipiac University poll as an indicator, Democrats and labor leaders could try to make the repeal effort a referendum on Kasich and his agenda.
“This is not just a Democrat or Republican issue,” said Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. “This should not be viewed as a re-litigation of the 2010 gubernatorial election. We want to welcome those who realize they might have made a mistake with their vote.”
And Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro of Hubbard said in a statement, “I am grateful Ohio’s constitution gives our citizens the power to overturn legislation that is so blatantly unfair to teachers, firefighters, police officers and other dedicated public servants. I look forward to a statewide referendum where Ohioans will have the opportunity to veto Senate Bill 5.”
At stake for public- employee unions and the Democratic organizations they generously fund is voter repeal of a law they view as a threat to their very existence.
Enactment of the collective-bargaining law 27 years ago, they argue, ushered in an era of relative labor peace and fairness to public employees and their employers, the taxpayers. There is no need, they say, to fix a system that isn’t broken.
Contributor: Marc Kovac, Vindicator Statehouse correspondent.