Ohio Taxpayers Benefit From Union Reform Despite Its Defeat
Ohio taxpayers in many school districts are benefiting from the public union reforms passed in 2011 by Republicans in the General Assembly, although the reforms themselves were blocked from ever taking effect. Senate Bill 5 (SB 5), which was repealed through a referendum process engineered by union front group We Are Ohio, sought to allow local school districts and governments to save money by placing economic restrictions on public-sector unions collective bargaining privileges.
Though SB 5s provisions were never implemented because of the referendum, public employee unions negotiating contracts in 2011 did so under the specter of decreased union power. Today, some Ohio taxpayers are seeing a glimpse of the benefits SB 5 could have provided permanently had the reforms not been overturned by a $40 million union campaign.
According to various school officials, some public employee unions apparently fearful that contract negotiations would be taking place in a future where SB 5 was allowed to take effect — were more willing to make concessions with their government employers.
In a June 18 report by the Columbus Dispatch, some school districts financial woes have been alleviated. For example, Bexley Schools Treasurer Chris Essman found in a recent review that a two-year salary freeze agreed to after SB 5′s passage will allow the school to put off asking taxpayers for an additional levy for a year longer than previously expected.
Upper Arlington district treasurer Andrew Geistfeld told the Dispatch that the school system benefited from SB 5 prompting union representatives to increase their amenability to contract concessions, such as teachers paying more of their own healthcare premiums. However, even though the teachers unions new-found willingness to strike a bargain helped the schools budgetary woes, the district will be asking taxpayers for an additional $9.2 million in property taxes this fall.
In the afterglow of Wisconsin voters June 5 affirmation of their support for similar public employee union reforms signed by Governor Scott Walker, many states are taking a second look at public employee union reform as a cost-saving measure. Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform, urged Republican governors to look to Walkers success for policy inspiration, saying, “they know it works, and is safe.”
Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney concurred with Norquists assessment of public employee union reform, saying Walker’s victory proved “citizens and taxpayers can fight back — and prevail — against the runaway government costs imposed by labor bosses.”
Despite the evidence presented by Walker, and touted by both Norquist and Romney, Governor John Kasich has publicly stated that he has “moved on” from attempting to reform the relationship between government, taxpayers, and public employee unions, telling the Columbus Dispatch that the defeat of SB 5 “[is] the way it is” and that one should “lose with grace.”
After the November 2011 repeal of SB 5, which many opponents claimed was directly linked to their fight against similar reform efforts in Wisconsin, Ohio legislators seem to have lost all willingness to cross the union bosses again. Earlier this year, Ohio Senate President Tom Niehaus declared that any efforts to reform Ohio’s flagging public employee pension system would need to be approved by union representatives before proceeding in the legislature.