Ohio voters repeal the state's collective bargaining reform law

by Cory Eucalitto | November 9, 2011

Voters in Ohio yesterday decisively passed Issue 2, overturning a law designed to limit many public sector collective bargaining rights. Senate Bill 5 was signed into law on March 31, 2011 as a key component of Governor John Kasich's agenda. The fate of the law was ultimately determined in a high-profile fight to the finish that saw the efforts of Ohio's public sector unions pay off. The bill was repealed by the margin of 61% to 39%.

State Budget Solutions previously laid out many of the bill's key measures. Those measures included the requirement that public workers cover at least 15% of their health costs, new restrictions on the topics on which public employees could collectively bargain, a ban on public employee strikes, and protections ensuring that unwilling employees do not have to join and contribute money to a union.

Final results turned out to be closely in line with recent polling. A late October poll conducted by Quinnipiac University projected SB 5's repeal by a margin of 57% to 32%. Similarly, Democratic group Public Policy Polling published results of 59% to 36% in favor of repeal.

Not only did repeal proponents benefit from the existing political network maintained by the state's labor unions, they were also able to greatly out-raise and out-spend their opposition. Repeal interests garnered and spent a reported $24 million, compared with an estimated $8 million by groups supporting SB 5's preservation.

SB 5's repeal only raises new questions about the steps Ohio must take to address its massive state debt. Including unfunded pension liabilities, a recent State Budget Solutions report found the state to be carrying over $240 billion in debt! Supporters of SB 5 say it would have brought near immediate savings to many Ohio governments through steps like increased employee health contributions. In fact, Ohio's The Buckeye Institute projected that taxpayers would save $1.3 billion per year just if local governments used the new tools provided to them. By placing taxpayers and local governments in a better bargaining position, supporters argue that the bill could have brought public sector salaries and benefits in line with their private sector counterparts. In 83 of 88 counties, for example, state government workers earn more than those in the private sector. The same is true of local government employees in 69 counties.

Opponents of the bill who fought so strongly for repeal saw SB 5 as an assault on the middle class. Its repeal to them is an indication, in the words of Vice President Joe Biden, that middle class workers would "no longer be trampled on." 

With SB 5 in the past, Ohio's leaders now face the prospect of finding alternative policies to bring about real budget solutions.