By Laura A. BISCHOFF
Dayton Daily News
Although a new poll shows Issue 2 heading for defeat by a 25-point margin, state Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, soldiered on during a televised debate Tuesday and portrayed the collective-bargaining reform package as a simple choice: Adopt the changes to save money or lay off cops and firefighters so that generous compensation for remaining public workers can continue.
Faber, a staunch supporter of Senate Bill 5, faced off against former Rep. Dennis Eckart, a Democrat from Cleveland. The debate offered the first chance for Ohioans to see more on TV than just 30-second attack ads and news sound bites on the 305-page bill.
“Ohioans are tapped out. We can’t keep raising taxes. We can’t keep spending more money,” Faber said. “The question is this: Are we going to balance our budgets? Are we going to have to lay off policemen and firefighters and teachers? Or are we going to do some reasonable reforms? And those reforms are in Issue 2 that give taxpayers a seat at the table.”
Eckart repeatedly slammed Senate Bill 5, saying it’s unfair, unsafe and unreasonable and will turn collective bargaining into collective begging because management will have the final say on what ends up in a contract.
“It’s unfair because it creates second-class citizens out of public servants. It erodes local control. It silences the voice of our public officials at the bargaining table,” he said.
“The bottom line about Issue 2 is that it eliminates the basic right of employees to unite their voices in a collective-bargaining process that has worked well for 30 years,” he added. “Sixty strikes a year 30 years ago; none in the last two. Issue 2 is neither reasonable nor is it reform. It’s filled with loopholes for friends, hurting our veterans, unintended consequences and political paybacks.”
Faber countered: “This is not an attack on government workers; this is not about a value judgment for government employees; this is simply about a math problem. Eighty percent of public budgets in the state are now consumed by labor costs alone, much of which is used to fund fringe benefits that are much better than the ones [private sector employees] get ...”
Quinnipiac University released a poll Tuesday that shows 57 percent of Ohio registered voters favor repealing Senate Bill 5 while 32 percent oppose repeal. Just about every demographic group, except Republicans, supports repealing the measure. The poll found that favoring repeal are a majority of Democrats and independents, men and women, blacks and whites, union and non-union households, college-educated and non-college graduates, and voters making more than $100,000 and those making less.
Ohio voters like parts of Senate Bill 5, which will appear on the statewide ballot as Issue 2. The poll found that a majority support requiring public workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health- care costs and 10 percent of their wages toward their pensions. It also found that 49 percent support merit-based pay raises rather than seniority-based pay hikes.
But Ohio voters are opposed to banning public- employee strikes, limiting public sector unions’ ability to bargain over health care, and eliminating seniority as the sole factor for determining layoffs, the poll found.
Voters are not allowed to vote on sections of the bill, however. It’ll be an up or down vote. A yes vote is to enact the bill; a no vote is to block it from taking effect.
The survey, conducted Oct. 17-23, contacted 1,668 registered voters via land lines and cellphones. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.4 percent.
Ohio’s referendum on the collective-bargaining reforms is being closely watched across the nation as a barometer of union power, a direct measure of an agenda being pursued by several Republican governors, and an indication of how collective bargaining changes might go for public sector workers.
“In terms of national politics, the ballot issues in Ohio — Issue 2 and Issue 3 — are among the most important and closely watched,” said University of Akron political scientist John Green. “A lot of people are watching Issue 2 very carefully.”
Campaign-finance reports are due Thursday to show the public who is bankrolling each side of the fight. We Are Ohio, which is backed mostly by unions, will disclose donors and amounts as well as spending, but Building a Better Ohio, which is advocating support of Issue 2, will disclose only a list of donors — not amounts.
Tuesday’s debate was sponsored by Ohio’s NBC-affiliated television stations and broadcast statewide. Locally, it aired live on 21 WFMJ-TV.
Among the questions asked:
Why single out public unions; why weren’t office-holders asked to sacrifice?
Faber said legislators and state employees already pay 15 percent for their health care and 10 percent toward their pensions. “The legislature didn’t exempt themselves from this bill,” he said.
Eckart said statewide office-holders and lawmaker staff members are receiving raises at a time when other public officials are facing cuts.
Will ending seniority cost longtime public employees their jobs?
Faber said no. “There’s already existing laws in the state and in the federal government that protect employees... from being let go purely because of your age or because of your length of service,” he said.
Eckart replied, “Why don’t we do it with our legislators? Taxpayers will save a hell of a lot more money.”
Why shouldn’t Building a Better Ohio be required to disclose campaign donors?
“They set up a tax shell outside of the legality of Ohio to hide their donors,” Eckart said. “Whether they’re regulated companies or friends of the governor and the rest of their clique that runs Columbus.”
Faber said he could not speak to the fund-raising of the campaign. But, he added, “The other side is spending tens of millions of dollars, millions of dollars that they gathered from public employee salaries by an assessment.”
CONTRIBUTOR: Marc Kovac, Vindicator Columbus correspondent