JULIE CARR SMYTH
COLUMBUS — The deadline for removing a repeal question on Ohio’s contentious collective bargaining law from the fall ballot passed Monday without fanfare, positioning voters to decide the fate of the law in November.
Passing the deadline doesn’t prevent Republican leaders and opponents of the law from reaching a deal later to change or toss out the legislation, though that’s seen as unlikely.
Signed by Gov. John Kasich in March, the law bans public employees from striking and restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 teachers, police officers, state employees and other public workers.
The group We Are Ohio — which opposes the law — had until midnight Monday to request the repeal issue be taken off the ballot. Spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas says the only way for its removal was for legislators to repeal the law themselves.
Kasich’s administration released a letter Aug. 17 asking for a meeting to discuss a compromise with 10 union leaders involved with We Are Ohio.
The group maintained that the time for a compromise that would remove Issue 2 from the Nov. 8 ballot had passed. The coalition’s campaign manager had responded in a letter to Kasich, House Speaker William Batchelder and Senate President Tom Niehaus that the group wouldn’t consider talks unless the law was repealed.
Defenders of the law scored another endorsement Monday in what has already become a daily volley, when the Ohio Society of Certified Public Accountants threw its backing behind the measure.
But comments by the liberal policy group ProgressOhio were the day’s attention grabber.
In a morning news conference, executive director Brian Rothenberg accused the Kasich administration of using $24 million in high-tech Third Frontier money to reward economic development groups whose members made political contributions to the governor and legislative Republicans who supported the law. He said the organizations serving as JobsOhio regional contacts, all local economic development offices, could use the money for projects they would have done anyway and apply the savings to the campaign supporting the collective bargaining law.
“It’s a washing system,” Rothenberg said — prompting a storm of angry responses.
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols wrote in an email that the accusations were so untrue they were “silly.”
“This type of baseless attack is the desperate tactic of anti-reformers who are so afraid of the real facts that they won’t even put them on their website,” he said.
In a telephone interview with The Associated Press, Kasich jobs guru Mark Kvamme, president and interim chief investment officer of JobsOhio, said Rothenberg’s accusations upset a lot of people.
Kvamme, who was moved out of his job as state development director after an earlier ProgressOhio lawsuit questioning the constitutionality of his appointment, said the group should be more cautious before suggesting the administration would exploit its signature economic program for political purposes.
“Sometimes I think these guys, all they’re focused on is creating innuendo and lawsuits,” Kvamme said. “A lot of people are evaluating the whole situation. If he’s not careful, he’s going to get into trouble.”
Kasich and other Republicans who back the collective bargaining bill argue the Ohio legislation will help city officials, school superintendents and others control their costs at a time when they, too, are feeling budget woes.
Opponents contend the collective bargaining restrictions are an unfair attack on public employee unions that had worked cooperatively with their government employers for decades. They accuse lawmakers of exploiting a state budget crisis to pass a measure unpopular with a majority of Ohioans.
A Quinnipiac University poll in July found that 56 percent of Ohio voters say the new collective bargaining law should be repealed, compared with 32 percent who favor keeping it in place.
The measure has been blocked from taking effect until voters have their say.