In eight days, Ohio voters will go to the polls to decide the fate of Senate Bill 5, which institutes reasonable reforms in the way public employees are compensated. A yes vote on Issue 2 is a vote to keep the law in place.
Gov. John Kasich signed SB 5 into law last March, recognizing the need for local government flexibility in dealing with widespread budget pressures. By requiring government workers to pay a portion of their health and retirement benefits and instituting a system of compensation based on merit, local governments are able to avoid the layoffs and tax increases that have become commonplace in recent years.
Of course, the left has run a well-funded and intense smear campaign largely funded out of union headquarters in Washington, D.C. They have relied on the politics of fear to frame this initiative as an assault on police, fire fighters and teachers. And to wit, recent public polling data suggests the unions are winning: Last week’s Quinnipiac poll had Ohioans supporting repeal 57-32. Clearly $30 million goes a long way in an off-year election.
But this has always been a race for the independent vote, and the “silent majority” will break toward a yes vote in the final week before Election Day. The major tenets of SB 5 remain consistently popular across the political spectrum, and especially with self-identified independent voters:
- Voters support requiring public employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health insurance costs by a 60-33 margin.
- Voters support requiring public employees to contribute at least 10 percent of their wages toward their pensions by a 57-34 margin.
- Voters support determining pay increases based on merit rather than seniority by a 49-40 margin.
And those voters who do not identify with either major party are not loudly voicing their opinions either way, for a few reasons. The most prominent is fear of union retribution. The small business owner that supports SB 5 as a hedge against property tax increases probably isn’t putting up a sign for fear of a union-backed boycott. The teacher who supports merit pay as a way to be fairly compensated for hard work doesn’t dare oppose Ohio’s powerful teachers union. And the school administrators who need flexibility in balancing their budgets know that going toe-to-toe with unions could have catastrophic consequences should SB 5 be repealed.
But perhaps more importantly, the average Ohio family doesn’t have the luxury of a paid day off to take a bus to Columbus to scream and wave a sign in support of SB 5. Nor should they be expected to be so passionate. At the heart of the SB 5 debate is the conflict of concentrated benefits with dispersed costs. Of course the unions are going to spend $30 million on a hysterical smear campaign to oppose a very moderate piece of legislation. Automatic pay increases, “free” benefits and insulation from reform are their lifeblood. The average Ohioan just has to pay a little bit more in local property taxes and state income taxes, but unionized government employees experience an absolute windfall.
But at the end of the day, taxpayers know that the status quo is broken at both the state and local levels. And they are aware, in the words of the Buckeye Institute, that the Grand Bargain is dead. No longer do government workers take less pay but better benefits for the opportunity to perform a public service. Now they get great benefits and a bigger paycheck than the rest of us, with nearly no accountability to those of us paying the bills.
The left knows that Quinnipiac’s 57-32 situation isn’t going to happen next Tuesday. In fact, a recent internal labor memo warns that a blowout is not “remotely possible” and that Quinnipiac’s polling language is misleading. The same day the Democratic Governors Association dropped an emergency $150,000 check on the pro-repeal coalition.
I think internal polling is slowly showing independents breaking toward a yes vote, as it should. This is not a partisan issue or an attack on Ohio public workers, most of whom do honorable and effective work. It is rather an attempt to curtail the power of their unions, who have effectively bankrupted Ohio’s local governments with inflexible demands and outsized political influence. A yes vote on Issue 2 is a vote for a sustainable government sector in Ohio.