Supporting Ohio’s SB5, Grover Norquist blasts GOP mayor, ignores law’s most damaging ‘tenets’
Conservative commentator and strategist Grover Norquist has weighed in on Ohio’s ballot initiative to repeal the controversial Senate Bill 5, the anti-collective-bargaining law opponents say distracts from the real causes of the state’s budget woes.
Norquist disagrees. On the website for his organization, Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist predicts independent voters, or the “silent majority,” will support the bill at the polls on November 8, when it will be decided by the veto referendum Issue 2.
However, Norquist also seems misinformed about the bill itself. He identifies as the “major tenets” of the bill three clauses: SB5 would require public employees to pay at least 15 percent of their health-care costs, 10 percent of their pensions (by eliminating pension pick-up) and would mandate merit-based raises over automatic-pay increases.
While the law, passed in March, does indeed include those reforms, few would identify them as its “major tenets.” SB5 severely restricts collective bargaining, prohibiting negotiations on minimum staffing, pension pick-up and classroom size for teachers. It also ends the practice of third-party binding arbitration, instead allowing management to implement their last offer if negotiations reach an impasse. In addition, SB5 would criminalize strikes for all public employees with heavy fines and even imprisonment.
“No longer do government workers take less pay but better benefits for the opportunity to perform a public service,” wrote Norquist. “Now they get great benefits and a bigger paycheck than the rest of us, with nearly no accountability to those of us paying the bills.” (According to the IRS (PDF), Norquist receives a $200,000 salary from his foundation for 24 hours of work per week, and an additional $22,419 in “other compensation” from ATR and “related organizations.”)
But highlighting the increases on health care and pension-matching actually identifies some of the least meaningful parts of the bill, as most public employees in Ohio already pay 10 percent of their pensions and 15 percent of their health care, and have been voluntarily conceding pay raises and benefits for years.
Municipalities that are short on cash have also long been allowed the flexibility to pick up some or all of an employee’s pension in lieu of higher wages, which increases the cost of the employee through higher payroll tax obligations and paying more for overtime.
In another post from Nov. 2, Norquist also blastes Republican David S. Smith, mayor of the small Ohio city of Lancaster, for a comments he made to The American Independent in which he said “SB5 doesn’t save the day for anybody,” as well as his decision to put a .25-percent local income tax increase before residents of his town. Lancaster recently had to lay off 13 firefighters and close a fire station, and, due to budgetary constraints, has been unable to fill police billets to replace officers that had retired.
“Soon after the layoffs of 13 city firefighters because of spiraling labor costs, Mayor Smith opted to push a large tax hike rather than concede that Issue 2 will prevent such sudden layoffs and preserve response times for police and fire fighters,” wrote Norquist. “Apparently Mayor Smith has not been paying much attention to current events in Columbus, so I offer a quick primer: Republicans chose to balance the state budget without painful tax increases, in fact reducing Ohio’s overall tax burden.”
Smith told The American Independent unions had voluntarily opened up their contracts and made repeated concessions, including picking up more of their health-care costs and foregoing pay raises for the last two years. In fact, Smith blamed the state budget for his city’s financial woes: The Kasich administration cut the Local Government Fund, which distributes sales taxes collected throughout the state, by half.
Norquist’s organization, founded at the request of former President Ronald Reagan, is opposed to all tax increases as a matter of principle, according to the mission statement on its website.