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Ohio Senate Bill 5 debaters argue merits of anti-collective bargaining law

The Columbus Metropolitan Club was host Thursday to a fiery debate on Senate Bill 5, the Ohio law that has become the central battlefield ahead of the state’s November 8 election, when the law will go before voters via a veto referendum known as Issue 2.

The debate was between Republican Ohio State Sen. Keith Faber and progressive political strategist Dale Butland, formerly a high-level staffer for former U.S. Sen. John Glenn and now the communications director for Innovation Ohio, a progressive think tank. Faber, a supporter of Ohio Gov. John Kasich and SB5, which would severely limit public employee unions at the bargaining table, said the state couldn’t afford to leave the its collective bargaining law as is.

Faber cited the cancellation of Toledo’s road re-paving project, which the city’s mayor, Mike Bell, claimed was due to the city’s pension pick-up contract with its workers.

“Now, I don’t know about you and I don’t live in Toledo, but if I had a choice of paying all the share of pension for city workers so they didn’t have to pay anything toward their guaranteed pensions, or having paved streets, I would tell them to pave the streets,” said Faber. “This isn’t an attack, it’s a math problem.”

Butland agreed that municipalities were being squeezed, but said it wasn’t fair to blame public workers. He pointed to the 50-percent cut in funds distributed from state coffers to local municipalities, and the $3 billion reduction in state funds given to school districts, suggesting closing “tax loopholes” for business would be a more fair path to making up the shortfall.

“[Municipalities are] broke because our governor refuses to ask the wealthiest to give up anything at all,” Butland said.

Under the new law, cities would be prohibited from picking up employees’ shares of pension payments, and would require workers to pay at least 15 percent of their health care benefits, which Faber called “a reasonable share.” Though Butland pointed out the 6 percent of public employees not currently paying for their health care don’t because it was offered by management in lieu of increased wages.

“I think it’s important to understand that a lot of these local governments are making these decisions,” said Butland. “Sometimes it’s cheaper for them to offer more health care pick-up than to offer a wage increase, because you don’t pay overtime on that, you don’t pay payroll taxes on that -– you don’t pay lots of things.”

Butland also noted that most city administrators in the state, who represent management for public workers, are opposed to SB5.

“Why is that every single mayor in every city except one in the state opposes Senate Bill 5, say they don’t want Senate bill 5 … say ‘we don’t need it, we’re doing just fine under the existing collective bargaining law?’” Butland said.

He also criticized the “hypocrisy” of Republican legislators calling for “shared sacrifice,” while earning $61,000 a year for what he called a “part-time job.”

“Then they get bonuses that they pay themselves that range from $8,600 to $34,000 a year. They have unlimited paid sick days, but they want to reduce paid sick days for everyone else,” said Butland. “When they had a chance this year to reduce their pay by 5 percent, to show they’re willing to join in the sacrifice, and they said no. And why’d

they say no? Mr. [Louis W.] Blessing, the second-ranking member over in the House, said … ‘I earn my money.’ Presumably it’s the same for most teachers and firefighters and police officers who don’t. Give me a break, senator.”

Faber noted that state Democrats voted against the cut, as well -– but both houses of the Ohio Legislature have strong Republican majorities.

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