By Marc Kovac
Last of a five-part series
Major polling has remained consistent in its conclusions on Senate Bill 5 since lawmakers passed the legislation earlier this year and opponents launched a petition drive to repeal it.
In four surveys by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, a majority of the registered voters questioned about the issue said the new controversial collective-bargaining law should be repealed.
In each of those surveys, the difference between the two sides remained in double digits. In fact, a new poll released earlier this week put Issue 2 opponents 25 percentage points ahead of supporters.
But those same respondents support provisions in the bill related to public-employee compensation.
In four surveys since May, voters said public employees should pay at least 15 percent of their health care and at least 10 percent of their wages toward pension plans.
They also support using employees’ performance to determine pay raises, not necessarily the number of years on the job. And in most cases, the difference between the two sides has remained in double digits.
With less than two weeks before Election Day, the poll results paint an interesting picture for the future of collective-bargaining reform in the state.
“The issues that drove the necessity of having SB 5 or Issue 2 haven’t changed,” said Republican Senate President Tom Niehaus. “We cannot continue paying the costs at the local government level or at the state level.”
There are rumblings that lawmakers will move on separate legislation enacting parts of SB 5, should Issue 2 fail next month.
There are Republicans who support that course of action.
“I personally would want to, but we have not had that discussion,” said Lynn Wachtmann, a Republican from Napoleon who supports SB 5. “I have not had that discussion with the speaker or anyone else. [But] I think it’s extremely important that all public employees in Ohio pay their 10 percent of their pension and not push that off onto the taxpayers of Ohio, which is what a lot of law enforcement and others do, particularly in the urban centers.”
Others who have been outspoken in their support of SB 5 are remaining mum on what happens if the issue fails, including state Sen. Shannon Jones, a Republican from the Cincinnati area and primary sponsor of the new law.
“I can’t speak to what’s going to happen beyond Nov. 8,” Jones said. “What I do know is that these communities are out of money. I wish it wasn’t the case, but that’s where we are. We’re either going to give our public manager flexibility to manage through this or we’re going to continue to operate a system that the only options that these communities have are mass layoffs and elimination of services or tax increases that the public doesn’t want to pay.”
Gov. John Kasich isn’t commenting publicly about what comes next, either.
“I think everybody knows that local governments are struggling now to create an environment of job creation,” he said. “Local governments will have to come to grips with how they control their costs and how they create jobs. There’s a rising concern about voting for more taxes at the local level. ... That’s what we’ve given them the tools to do [with SB 5]. We’ll see what happens.”
Union leaders say they’re ready to work with Republican lawmakers on future collective-bargaining reform.
“We would hope that if we get into this situation where the bill is rejected ... by Ohio voters, that the people in the Legislature will see that Ohioans have spoken,” said Jay McDonald, president of the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio. “[We hope] they will provide the opportunity to have the legislative process that was denied in the beginning.”
Some opponents of SB 5 are calling Issue 2 as a referendum not only on the collective-bargaining law but also on Kasich himself.
The governor disagrees.
“What’s on the ballot is a referendum on the issue,” he said. “You might try to make it [a referendum against me], but that’s not the way I see it. ... The fact of the matter is the ability to control costs is really important for local communities.”
He added, “I’ve been out there making a case for it, telling people why we need it, and we’ll see what happens. And we’ll move on, one way or the other. [There’s] a lot to do in Ohio.”
Even if the bill fails, Kasich said SB 5 has accomplished something. It’s prompted a better public understanding of public employee collective bargaining in the state, and it’s led public organized labor to agree to contract concessions, he said.
He added, “There are settlements that are coming that are in the better interest [of] communities. ... We’re already winning in what we’re trying to do, which is to make Ohio more fertile for job creation.”
A defeat of SB 5, however, would have political ramifications for Kasich and other Republicans, moving into a 2012 presidential election year, said Paul Beck, a political science professor at Ohio State University who has written extensively on political parties and elections.
“If it’s rescinded, it obviously is a rebuke to [Kasich] and to his leadership,” Beck said. “And what it will do is make Republican politicians all over the state nervous — nervous about 2012, much less inclined to follow his lead. ... I think that it’s very important politically in terms of the signal it will send.”
The Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio isn’t a liberal-leaning group, McDonald said. In fact, he said many of his members tend to vote Republican.
But SB 5 could have repercussions when current officeholders are up for re-election next year or in 2014.
The bill “wasn’t just about health care or arbitration,” he said. “It’s just such a wide-ranging, broad attack on collective bargaining and public employees in general ... My people are highly upset with the governor, and they’ve taken a lot of the things that he’s done as an insult.”
But Kevin DeWine, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, rejected any notion that Issue 2 is a referendum on Kasich or that it would affect GOP candidates next year.
“Clearly, that’s what [those opposing Senate Bill 5] want,” DeWine said. “They want to sell this to their base as a referendum on the governor. I don’t view it as such, and I think that it will have little impact one way or the other on the election of 2012.”
He added, “The election of 2012 is not about Senate Bill 5 or something that appeared in March of 2011. ... The election of 2012 is about [President] Barack Obama. It’s about jobs and the economy, debt, deficit, taxes, spending. That’s what’s going to be on the hearts and minds of voters, not Senate Bill 5 one way or the other, whether it passes or fails.”