Ohio ‘jobs budget’: Adding insult to injury for labor unions?

Ohio is already considering a Wisconsin-like bill to take on labor unions. Now Gov. John Kasich is proposing a budget that could significantly cut union ranks.

By MARK GUARINO | Staff Writer Christian Science Monitor

posted March 16, 2011 at 10:52 pm EDT

Chicago – Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s “Jobs Budget” for fiscal year 2012 includes no tax increases and makes significant cuts to local governments, school districts, and health-care providers to shore up a $8 billion deficit.

The budget has caught national attention because it follows the Ohio Legislature’s effort to rein in unions through a bill similar to the one passed in Wisconsin. The bill has passed the Senate, and Governor Kasich says he will sign it if it passes the House as expected. Critics say Kasich’s budget would be a further blow to labor and is a stealth way for the government to erode union membership.

But labor is hardly the only target in Kasich’s budget. It cuts state funding to local government from $665 million in 2011 to $339 million in 2013. State money to primary and secondary schools would be trimmed by 12.1 percent in 2012 and 7.6 percent the following year. Higher education funding would be cut 13.1 percent each year. And it would lower Medicaid funding by $1.4 billion by reducing payments to nursing homes and hospitals.

Kasich says statewide cuts are needed to make the state “much more efficient.”

“We’re going to take a look at how much government we have in this state,” he added.

Union supporters say the budget will lessen their ranks. Pete Van Runkle, executive director of the Ohio Health Care Association, told the Columbus Dispatch Wednesday that the budget constraints will lead to the loss of 6,000 nursing home jobs.

“You can’t pull out that much without losing jobs – 70 percent of our costs are labor – and it’s kind of ironic that the governor is saying this is a jobs budget,” Mr. Van Runkle said.
The budget proposals also establish new measures for the hiring and firing public school teachers, such as no longer allowing seniority to determine which teachers are laid off. Additionally, they allow parents or teachers to take over a school district if performance levels put it in the bottom 5 percent of the state for three years.

Such proposals come in addition to a bill passed Friday by the state Senate but still being debated by the House. The bill limits public union rights, which will affect over 360,000 state workers, from local government employees to firefighters, police officers, and public school teachers.

Like the bill signed last week by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Ohio bill limits collective bargaining rights for wages. The bill also eliminates the rights of public workers to strike and establishes pay increases by merit only, not seniority.

On Sunday, Kasich told reporters that the bill is “not an attack” on union workers in his state.

“What we are doing in this state is designed to make sure that your kids have a future in this state – that your kids can stay in this state, that they can have jobs in this state, and that your family can be prosperous,” he said.

A poll released Monday by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati shows that the majority of Ohio residents disagree with how the governor designed his budget. Fifty-three percent reported they want “a combination of tax increase and state spending reductions” to balance the budget and that 35 percent want just “reductions on state spending on programs and services.”

Among those who chose answers that involved a reductions in programs and services, 33 percent said they wanted local governments to take the greatest hit in funding, followed by prisons and public safety, colleges and universities, and health care for the elderly.

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