Gov. John Kasich insists that he's not anti-union as he defends a bill moving through the General Assembly that would restrict public employees' collective bargaining rights.
On Friday, he said the measure's goal is to give state and local governments the power to take back control of their own budgets, and he held up Toledo's current contract fight with trash and sewer workers as Exhibit A.
"Today, in The Toledo Blade you have the union telling the city we really don't care what your finances are, just give us the money," he said. "The mayor up there is in a dither. He's trying to figure out, 'Wait a minute. How am I supposed to manage my costs?'"
Days before he is scheduled to deliver his first State of the State address and less than two weeks before he'll present his first budget proposal, the GOP governor addressed the issue that has brought tens of thousands of protesters into the Statehouse.
"This is all designed to, No. 1, give local officials the tools they need; secondly, to strengthen the pension systems that we currently have, and allow us to save money," he said. "Mansfield is on the edge of bankruptcy. There's a report now that Mansfield may not make it through the year because they couldn't control their costs."
Senate Bill 5 passed the Senate on Wednesday by a 17-16 vote. Six Republicans joined all 10 of the chamber's Democrats in opposition. Hearings begin next week in the GOP-controlled House, where it is expected to pass.
The bill retains collective bargaining for state employees but limits what issues can be negotiated, takes issues such as health care and pension pick-ups off the table, revokes the rights of all public employees to strike, and establishes a new mediation, fact-finding, and government agency vote to bring final resolution to contract disputes.
"I grew up in a union household," Mr. Kasich said. "I understand human nature 'cause I'm a human too, and when somebody decides they want to change something on me, I don't like it. That's OK."
John Roca is the lawyer for Teamsters Local 20, which represents the trash and sewer workers involved in the contract dispute with the city of Toledo that was heard Thursday by a State Employment Relations Board administrative law judge.
The city presented its financial situation as the reason for its rejection of a fact-finder's report and subsequent implementation of its own less generous offer.
Mr. Roca had argued that the city's finances were irrelevant to the legal issue of whether the city was guilty of unfair labor practices.
"Even if the amended version [of Senate Bill 5] that has been presented is passed, it still would be problematic for unions and working people to buy into," Mr. Roca said Friday. "Taken as a whole, what it does is tilt the table in favor of management in a way that bargaining will bear little semblance to real bargaining."
The controversy is expected to draw protesters to Tuesday's State of the State address. Members of the Tea Party and others are also expected at the Statehouse to demonstrate support for Mr. Kasich and his policies.
Friday, Mr. Kasich signed a law that starts Ohio's process of rewriting its rules and regulations to make them more business and consumer-friendly. The effort will be headed by Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor.
Afterward, he appeared to downplay the importance of Tuesday's address, which he said he was still writing. Governors typically use the speech before a joint session of the General Assembly to outline new proposals and, every two years, to preview the proposed budget that will be sent to lawmakers.
"I consider the inaugural [speech] really to be the most important talk that I've delivered," he said. "This is important, but they're all important."
His speech after his public inaugural ceremony on Jan. 10 pointed to tough decisions ahead and called for bipartisan cooperation in addressing them.
But it lacked specific proposals that went beyond what he'd already talked about on the campaign trail.
"The state of the state is in our hands," he said Friday. "I'm going to lay out the challenges that we face, and the difficulties that we're in, what I think it's going to take to get out of them, and the fact that we have a lot of things going for us in Ohio. If we hang together, we'll be OK."
Mr. Kasich plans to present his budget proposal on March 15.
"We have designed a document to get us through 2012 and into 2013, preserving tax cuts," he said. "I've said all along that this budget is very reform and restructure-oriented. But you can't get all the way there with reform and restructuring. There will be some direct cuts, but that's why we give people tools. That's what Senate Bill 5 is. It's an effort to give people tools to manage their costs."
The budget is expected to contain direct funding cuts to local governments, schools, public universities and colleges, and human services. The state faces an estimated $8 billion revenue shortfall over the next two years, largely because of the current budget's heavy reliance on federal stimulus dollars and other one-time funds.
By Jim Provance - The Blade, Toledo (MCT)
Copyright (c) 2011, The Blade, Toledo, Ohio
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
To see more of The Blade, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.toledoblade.com.