Health Care and Unions: Ballot issues have Ohio's freedom on the line

Will recession battered Buckeyes reject the union Kool-Aid? UPDATE: Nope.

WASHINGTON, November 8, 2011 – Today, Ohio has the opportunity to free itself and its citizens from the shackles of the public employee union thugs who’ve brought this once vital state to its knees over the past 50 years.

The key: voting on Ballot Issues 2 and 3.

Ballot Issue 2 is an up or down vote on whether Ohio will retain or reject Ohio Senate Bill 5 (SB5), passed earlier this year. SB5 requires that public sector union employees:

  • Contribute at least 10% of their salaries toward their pension costs and contribute at least 15% of the cost of their health care packages.
  • Prohibits public employees from staging strikes and bans binding arbitration.

SB5 also requires that teachers be subject to merit pay while protecting superior but junior teachers from heretofore strictly seniority-based layoffs.

Ohio state flag.

Ohio’s unique, pennant-shaped state flag.

In addition, the bill also gives beleaguered jurisdictions, particularly school districts, much greater flexibility in controlling skyrocketing costs, mostly the result of gold-plated public employee union benefits.

Issue 3, aka the “Ohio Health Care Freedom Amendment” to the state constitution puts into law an Ohio opt-out of Obamacare—something Virginia and other states have already accomplished. Specifically, Issue 3 would guarantee that Ohioans could not be:

  • Forced to participate in any health care system.
  • Subject to fines or penalties for not purchasing a “mandatory” health plan.
  • Prevented from purchasing a health care plan of his or her choice.

“Yes” votes will keep these laws on the books. “No” votes will roll them back, and along with them, the hopes and dreams of the average Ohioans who don’t have tenure, gold-plated jobs, or gold-plated benefits packages.

The irony of all this is that, as in Wisconsin, Ohio voters in 2010, fed up with the Democrat-led kleptocracies in Washington, Madison, and Columbus, voted to give the other guys a chance to clean up a long-term, debilitating fiscal mess. Included in the mess was the obvious fact that public employees are working for the public and not the other way around. Their generous pay and benefits packages could no longer be afforded by the taxpayers.

A bit of ancient history

The economies of the Rust Belt states were largely destroyed over the past 50-year period by an increasing collusion between machine Democrats and public employee unions. To this day, any city, county, or state legislator that wants to keep his job (and avoid getting kneecapped) needs to give the public employee unions whatever they want in contract negotiations. In return, the public employee unions peel off mass quantities of Benjamins from their union dues pots to assure the continued re-election of compliant officials. It’s become a massive, continuous feedback loop.

The problem here is almost deceptively simple. In effect, public employee unions hire their own managers—the politicians. And the politicians keep their cushy jobs by using taxpayer money to keep the unions compliant, i.e., by giving them anything that they want whenever they threaten a strike. The result—workers who are not public employee union workers—which includes union workers in the private sector—have no one to represent them when it comes to where their tax dollars are spent.

The situation is tantamount to workers at your local MacDonald’s telling the store manager each year just how much he’s going to have to pay them in order not to trash his store. Given human nature, the average counter clerk would soon be making $20-30 an hour. A Happy Meal would run about $15. And the store would go out of business within weeks.

Unfortunately, when public employee unions and the corrupt politicians they keep in office do the same thing, they’re not subject to the laws of economics that our hypothetical MacDonald’s is. If public workers want more money or richer benefits, they get together with the politicians they own and simply raise your taxes. Any “negotiations” are just for show. After all, where else can you turn to for “government services?” Burger King?

This game was fun when there were no consequences. But, thanks to the Great Recession, now there are. So many people—and not just in Ohio—are out of work that the seemingly bottomless tax money well has run dry. Isolated from reality for generations, public employee unions refuse to acknowledge or adapt to this situation. As a result, they demand more and more from an obviously shrinking revenue base, refusing to bend an inch even though the people that pay their salaries and outsized benefits packages are either broke, out of work, or both. This is arrogance of the highest order.

Toward one-party rule

It’s clear that in 2010, voters in both Wisconsin and Ohio decided that business as usual was no longer an option by voting out Democrat majorities in both states. It’s something these states rarely do, at least in large urban centers.

Back in the day under such circumstances, the losing party would graciously accept defeat, step back, re-examine its philosophy, methods, and candidates. Then they’d re-emerge one or two elections later better prepared to address voter concerns and perhaps in so doing, return once again to power as legitimate representatives of the public at large, not just those select constituencies long accustomed to feeding at the taxpayer trough.

But in the Rust Belt—along with California and Rhode Island—left-wing Democrats, well-funded and controlled via the steady conduit of public employee union dues (provided, of course, by the taxpayers), have been in continuous power for generations. This has created a cozy environment where, if you’re in the system, you have the best of all possible lives. And if you’re not, you get to pay for it.

Ohio state seal.

One version of the Ohio state seal.

This, at least in part, is what the voters in 2010 rejected. Not surprisingly, however, if, like the public employees, you’ve had a swell deal for decades, you’re not about to let it go just because everybody else is suffering. Hence the outbreak of brown-shirt union thuggery in Wisconsin and Ohio this year.

As Tocqueville feared, this chain of events has led us to the worst of all possible outcomes for a democracy. Instead of regrouping and reforming after an electoral defeat, today’s union-fed Democrats have made a decision that when they are not in control, they’ll simply prevent the other party from governing until they can throw the other party out. No learning or adapting here. Which is exactly how fascism works. It’s a painful descent into one-party rule. This is what Wisconsin has been confronting. It’s now what Ohioans are confronting as well.

Will Ohioans get this not-too-subtle point when they go to the polls today? It’s hard to say. The usual relentless push-polling, plus massive advertising by the public employee union thugocracy claims that at least Ballot Issue 2 will go down to a stunning defeat.

But if it does, Ohioans, ask yourself this: What will you have you won? Are you happy that your tax dollars will continue to support gold-plated salaries and benefits for public employee union families—those who allegedly work for you—rather than your own? Is that what you really wanted to say? Is this really going to improve your lives and the lives of your children?

Tom Blumer has a more optimistic take on this:

“Polls show Issue 2 trailing, which is not at all surprising or even necessarily troubling. Ohio’s issue-related polls have a history of serious inaccuracy favoring the leftist position. Six years ago, two George Soros-driven ‘reform’ proposals were ahead in two statewide polls just before Election Day by an average of 28 points. They lost by an average of 31. On Thursday, a leaked memo from Issue 2′s opponents, as interpreted by the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent, suggested that ‘the fight could still go either way.’”

This writer is not so sure. Having grown up in the Buckeye State and having spent plenty of time in union-dominated Cuyahoga County (Cleveland), your reporter is not really certain that the average voter really understands the laws of cause and effect any more.

Yet strange things have happened during this campaign. The reliably socialist Cleveland Plain Dealer has actually come out in support of SB5 as has the mayor of Toledo, a rock-ribbed union town if there ever was one. But it’s still unknown as to whether these unusual allies will sway many voters.

The enduring problem in the Rust Belt is that it’s remained blindly pro-union long past the point where this position makes any sense. Empowered greatly by the New Deal and the Wagner Act, all unions have become sclerotic, archaic, and counterproductive. That’s why their membership today is only a fraction of what it was half a century ago. They don’t really represent the worker anymore. They only represent themselves, and fewer and fewer of themselves at that. So why would anyone in Ohio, Michigan, or anywhere else steadfastly want to chain their own lives to the battered hull of a sinking ship? It’s a good question, but one that’s rarely asked.

Who’s the public servant—the public servant or the taxpayer?

When this writer was younger, most people understood that a public employee was a “public servant,” i.e., someone who’d made a decision to accept lower pay in return for a steady job providing needed or desired services to the public. In exchange, a public servant’s benefits package was sweetened beyond what the average private sector worker received as a way of compensating for these lower salaries.

Somehow, though, the public didn’t catch on until a couple of years ago that public employee union pay packages had been increasing radically to the point where the average, tenured-in public employee makes considerably more than his private sector equivalent. And on top of that, the public employee’s free or nearly-free benefits package remained just that. Where’s the justice here?

If the average, battered Ohio voter can’t see this, the state will be lost for another generation to the kind of Blue State misery that’s already engulfed states like Rhode Island, California, New York, and Illinois in particular. Sadly, if Ohioans haven’t learned this lesson today, then they’ll still have another chance to learn it tomorrow. Because it’s not going away.

To those going to the polls today, Blumer issues an observation and a challenge:

“As usual, [the vote] will all come down to who gets their supporters to the polls. I would encourage readers, even those from outside the Buckeye State, to contact their center-right friends, relatives, and acquaintances and ask them to be sure they vote. The financial viability and competitiveness of Ohio, and the ability of other states to address their own fiscal quagmires, both likely hang in the balance.”

UPDATE: As of 10:30 p.m., it appears that SB5 is going down to a decisive defeat, rewarding a $30 million dollar union effort to sustain the gold plated salaries, benefits, and power of Ohio’s public employee unions. 

NRO Online reports:

“In a press conference, Ohio governor John Kasich conceded tonight’s referendum on Senate Bill 5, which voters overwhelmingly rejected. ‘When you get beat, you have to admit it, and you have to congratulate and shake the hand of the folks who prevailed,’ Kasich said. ‘It’s clear that the people have spoken.’

“‘I’ve heard their voices,’ Kasich assured the press. ‘As a result of that, it requires me to take a deep breath and to spend some time reflecting on what happened here.’ The governor reiterated that his priority was creating jobs and that he would not bail out municipalities whose budgets were in the red. Although he believed Senate Bill 5 would have given those municipalities the tools to fill their budget gaps, he promised, ‘We will continue to look for tools that will put them in a position of being able to control their costs.’”

Kasich’s concession was surprisingly gracious in this hyperpartisan era. But now, as he has indicated, the bloated bureaucracies of local jurisdictions will have to figure out for themselves how to get out of their respective budget morasses—without any help from Columbus.

At this hour, it has been somewhat difficult to obtain information on the second Ohio issue, the effective “opt out” of Obamacare, otherwise known as Issue 3. DC’s local TV stations are trumpeting the Issue 2 defeat this evening but are not mentioning the fate of Issue 3. However, Fox News online now projects that the opt out appears to be passing by a comfortable margin.

Ohio’s voters appear to have sent a mixed message this evening. The apparent passage of Issue 3 confirms that the near universal national loathing of Obamacare runs wide and deep even in a heavily blue-collar state. But the defeat of Issue 2 proves Ohio’s voters are still unwilling to confront the ruinous impact of public employees’ Rolls Royce health, retirement, and pay packages—unfunded liabilities that will only grow like a hydra and continue to crush state and local budgets for decades to come. 

Ohio’s unions will be celebrating their victory big time tonight. But in the not too distant future, it’s likely that Ohio’s public employees will be facing significant reductions in force as a result of their win, as the state and its local jurisdictions search for another way to reign in the out-of-control cost of government. It’s really too late to kick this can down the road much longer. But Ohio’s voters have decided to give this tactic one more Hail Mary pass.


Read more of Terry’s news and reviews at Curtain Up! in the Entertain Us neighborhood of theWashington Times Communities. For Terry’s investing insights, visit his WT Communities column,The Prudent Man in Politics.

Follow Terry on Twitter @terryp17

This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.

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Terry Ponick

Now writing on investing, politics, music, movies and theater for the Washington Times Communities, Terry was formerly the longtime music and culture critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2009) before moving online with Communities in 2010.  



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