US

Conservatives say defeat of bill limiting collective bargaining in Ohio will cause increased taxes, ‘mass layoffs’

Conservatives said Tuesday that the defeat of Ohio Issue 2, which would have limited collective bargaining rights for state employees, will cause localities to decrease services, raise taxes and lay off the very firefighters, policemen and teachers that the unions said the vote would protect.

Issue 2 was soundly defeated, 63 percent to 37 percent, with 2,212 districts of 9,522 reporting when the Associated Press called the race.

“The short-term effect is that a lot of cities and governments in Ohio are going to find it hard to keep up with the escalating cost of health care and retirement,” said Bob Kish, an Ohio-based Republican consultant in an email. “They are going to have to either lay-off people, raise taxes, or file for bankruptcy.”

“Long-term,” he continued, “this is going to make it hard for Ohio to remain competitive with other states … as businesses are going to look to places where it’s cheaper to do business where unions aren’t as strong.”

Passing Issue 2 would “give local governments an ability to have control over their budgets” in order to deal with their financial problems, said Connie Wehrkamp, spokesperson for Building a Better Ohio, a group supporting Issue 2.

“If it doesn’t go our way,” Wehrkamp predicted in the hours before the polls closed Tuesday, “local governments will be in the same position they are right now. Their only option to balance the budget will be to lay off employees, cut services, or raise taxes.”

“If the law is defeated then it is an important message to governors that the public may support some changes to state workers benefits, such as health care and pensions, but not a wholesale rejection of union representation,” said Charles Franklin, professor of political science at University of Wisconsin Madison and co-developer of Pollster.com, before the polls closed.

“In Wisconsin we see polls showing strong support for increased health and retirement contributions but we also see 60 percent saying state workers should not lose union representation. The Ohio polls suggest a similar split but the referendum today will give us a definitive answer as to where the public stands, at least in Ohio,” he added.

Peter Brown, Assistant Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute pointed out that unions are also more popular in Ohio than they are in other states.

Unions and their supporters argued that voting to repeal Senate Bill 5, as the bill was called when it was passed, is “really an opportunity to support collective bargaining rights for every day heroes… and it’s really about having the backs of those people who have had ours,” in the words of Melissa Fazekas, spokesperson for We are Ohio, the group that spearheaded the successful repeal effort.

“This vote indicates Ohioans not only support public employees, but they also understand we have been problem solvers and have done so by making more than $1 billion in sacrifices in just the last three years,” said Doug Stern, Cincinnati Firefighter, in a press release sent out by We Are Ohio after the results were announced.

“This is a victory for all Ohioans who want to solve the challenges facing our state without attacking the middle class. Tonight we will enjoy this historic victory, while tomorrow we will go back to work,” said Tamar Gray, a Cleveland public school teacher.

Though there are provisions in the bill other than the one that would limit collective bargaining, Fazekas said Monday that voters needed to look at it “in its entirety,” and that those other provisions that supporters said were popular were really just a “red herring” that distracted from the basic fact that the bill would deny collective bargaining rights to essential state employees.

We Are Ohio argued that contrary to the bill’s intent, it “destroys jobs and lowers wages.”

Rebecca Heimlich of Americans for Prosperity – Ohio called that claim “one of the most frustrating things that they have said.” She pointed to Wisconsin, where the legislature “passed a very similar bill and what we’re seeing is surpluses and people not being laid off.”

Heimlich predicted “either mass tax increases or mass layoffs across the state” as a result of the bill being repealed.

On the local level, she pointed out, towns and cities are “can’t just run a deficit; you can’t print money.” And since voters tend to reject the idea of new taxes, the most likely outcome, she said, is layoffs. “There’s no magic pot of money,” she added.

Follow Alexis on Twitter