Few people will argue Ohio Gov. John Kasich is attempting anything to reduce government spending and balance the state budget, but one piece of legislation in particular is stirring up plenty of attention regarding his methods to reach that goal.
State Issue 2, placed on the ballot as a referendum, would ban public worker strikes and restrict collective bargaining rights for public employees, including teachers, firefighters and police officers. Public employee unions will still be able to negotiate on wages but not on their pension or their health care benefits.
Wapakoneta Fire Department members said that voters should weigh the facts and vote according to how the law will affect them locally.
“We are asking voters to consider their vote based on how it will affect their area,” Wapakoneta Fire Chief Kendall Krites said.
Wapakoneta firefighters said Issue 2 could unravel years of work fire and police officials have spent developing a good working relationship with city administrators — as firefighters maintain reasonable pay benefits and city administrators can maintain an affordable budget.
“We have all done what we can to be fiscally responsible,” Krites said.
Firefighter Brad West said that firefighters in Wapakoneta are currently paying 25 percent of their health care premium and paid 30 percent a year ago. The difference was paid into a health savings account (HSA) to help keep health insurance costs down, and the move saved the city money.
Firefighter Eric Snapp said their health care deductible has doubled over that same time span. Firefighters and police are also already meeting the 10 percent contribution to pension funds that will be required by Senate Bill 5.
“That would go by the wayside is Issue 2 is passed,” Snapp said.
West said Issue 2 would take away collective bargaining rights to discuss items such as safety and health care in negotiations, making the local village or city council the binding arbitrator.
Snapp said Wapakoneta firefighters and police officers have already negotiated away their right to strike to secure binding arbitration in past talks.
“Now, if Issue 2 passes, we won’t be able to strike and we won’t be able to have binding arbitration,” West said. “It would be a one-way street. We would be left pretty much at the mercy of the council.”
Krites said that area firefighters and police saw the writing on the wall several years ago and worked things out accordingly. That whole process is threatened if Issue 2 is approved by voters.
“The city administration saw that they couldn’t continue down the same path several years ago,” Krites said. “We have been responsible and worked out what needed to be worked out.”
All three firefighters agreed state elected officials are blaming public employees for part of the state budget woes and that it simply has not been the case in our area.
“The state has tried to lead people to believe that public employees are paid 43 percent more than workers in the private sector,” Snapp said. “They have done some fuzzy math to come up with those numbers.”
Krites said numbers indicate that public workers are actually making approximately 2 percent less on average.
Krites concluded that several commercials airing in support of Issue 2 are dispelling questionable facts.
“They want people to believe we have crippled our economy,” Krites said. “They would also have people believe that a no vote will automatically raise taxes. A no vote is not going to automatically raise taxes.
“The governor is utilizing this down economy to villianize the public employees that have been serving their communities for years,” he said. “He wants us to believe that we are the reason for our sluggish economy and high unemployment.”
George Lee, Auglaize County coordinator for the “Vote Yes on Issues 2 and 3” campaign, said the bill will not have the effect that public employees are claiming.
“Our economy is struggling in Ohio and something has to be done about it,” Lee said. “Senate Bill 5 is making that available.”
Lee said that voters face increased taxes due to the money needed to pay employees if local government entities are not given a better ability to negotiate spending.
“All of the people upset about Senate Bill 5 will face real cuts if municipalities and schools are not able to do something,” Lee said. “They will have to go to the state and they will in turn have to raise taxes. I don’t think the voters will want to do that.”
He claimed Senate Bill 5 is simply creating a level playing field for local governments. He said while it is taking retirement and health care benefits off of the table, it is creating a more stable environment and creating an overall savings while still leaving public workers with good wages and benefits when compared to the private sector.
“Departments that are currently paying higher than the 10 percent for their retirement will be able to lower that number, just for an example,” Lee said. “If it is lower, say 7 percent, they will have to take it up.”
Lee said that scare tactics put in place by opposition of Senate Bill 5, such as losing staffing and emergency equipment, are falsehoods.
He said public workers still retain their ability to negotiate for a safe work environment.
“They are using a lot of fear tactics and it is criminal that they are doing so,” Lee said.
Lee said Senate Bill 5 is giving Ohioans the chance to flatline or slow down the rapid increases in public employee spending, which will in turn help the state to lure business back to the state.
“We had a chance to see an expansion at Honda (at the Anna or Marysville plants),” Lee said. “Because of our current situation they chose to go across the border to Indiana. We need to control costs and keep taxes down so people will invest and build here.”
Lee argued that Senate Bill 5 will put public business more in line with the private sector.
“A union in the private sector can come to negotiate and say what they want,” Lee said. “The company can throw the books open and say, here is what we make and this is what we can afford. If the union refuses and the company gives in, they can go bankrupt and the business closes.
“That is why this is more dangerous,” he said. “The business does not close. In the public sector, we pay the bill and we cannot close the business.”
Lee noted that Issue 2 will allow school districts to put standards in for merit pay for teachers.
A yes vote on Issue 2 will uphold the newly approved law and a no vote will repeal it.