A couple of things are evident in the ongoing debate over Republican-backed changes to the state’s collective bargaining laws.
The first is that the GOP-controlled House and Senate are negotiating behind closed doors on the final language of Senate Bill 5 that ultimately will be approved and signed into law by Gov. John Kasich.
The second is that opponents, thousands of whom have already made their position crystal clear through repeated (though dwindling) protests at the Ohio Statehouse, are poised to push the issue onto the November ballot to give voters the final say on whether to limit public employees collective bargaining power.
The remaining question, then, is which November ballot will end up with the expected referendum.
Will it be this year, during an off election with a lower turnout, or next year following a heated presidential campaign that will draw more Ohioans (potentially lugging government-issued photo IDs) to the ballot box?
Conventional political wisdom would favor the former, forcing Democratic-leaning union groups to dump millions of dollars into campaign advertising and potentially depleting resources that could be used to back their candidates next year.
Plus, a referendum in November 2012 would mean postponing the provisions of S.B. 5 for almost two years, lessening the savings the governor has included in his biennial budget proposal.
Next week’s deadline
Republicans will have to pass the bill and Kasich will have to sign it in the next week or so to ensure that any ballot issue were to appear this year rather than next.
Republican House Speaker Bill Batchelder acknowledged last week that the timing issue is playing a role in the majority party’s actions on the bill.
But he’s not so sure that delaying the vote a year would help Democrats defeat collective bargaining reform.
“There’s a presumption that if we put it on this fall, somehow or another that would be better for one party or another — namely mine,” Batchelder said. “I’m not so sure.”
Turnout, he said, might end up favoring Republicans.
“I don’t see how the Democrats could have gotten a bigger turnout than they got in ‘08,” Batchelder said. “Unbelievable turnout. And the irony is, when you look at the two parties, their turnout wasn’t as high as it had been for [Al] Gore. ... What they had was a falloff in Republican vote because our presidential candidate was not the best one we ever fielded, and they had an excitement, which is certainly understandable with the candidate they had.”
He added, “I don’t know who would turn out. In other words, it’s conceivable that there will be a heavier turnout of people who have strong feelings in favor of [collective bargaining] legislation. I have a lot of friends who belong to some of the organizations involved, and some of them are quite unhappy that they pay $800 a year in dues and they don’t think they get much. Some of them obviously resent being represented as people who would come down here and try to drown out the process of government.”