PoliticsOhio: Ballot Issue Order Announced, Wording May Spark Debate

Jul 29, 2011

In this week's PoliticsOhio, Emily McCord speaks to Bill Cohen from the Ohio Public Radio Statehouse News Bureau to discuss the newly announced order of November's ballot issues, including the Senate Bill 5 referendum. Cohen reports that the wording will be hashed out next week when the Ohio board ballot meets which could lead to some controversy.

Emily McCord: I want ask you about a study released this week from a progressive think-tank that is questioning tax break that are included in the state budget, at a time that the budget is very tight. What does the study find?

Bill Cohen: It finds that there’s about $400 million dollars a year in new or extended tax breaks. It’s basically saying ‘hey legislators, don’t give away tax money when we just passed one of the tightest state budgets in decades and had to slash spending for schools and universities, and poor people’s programs and programs for the elderly and the sick and abused children and so forth. If anything we need more money not less money’. So there are several in here. There’s the repeal of the estate tax, that’s probably the biggest. But there are other ones too. There are tax breaks for rehabilitating historical buildings. There’s a big tax break in case somebody sets up a mammoth computer data center. There’s nearly a dozen over all.

EM: What’s the response from Republicans?

BC: Republicans are sticking with their point of view that these tax breaks are good. They may not directly create jobs but in general, they’ll make Ohio more business friendly and friendly to entrepreneurs and when you do that, the Republicans keep arguing, you’re going to create more jobs. They also add that these tax breaks passed in the new state budget don’t really affect the current state budget. They were put into to the current state budget but they don’t take effect for another couple years.

EM: This week, another issue is officially making it to the ballot regarding the federal health care mandate. Paint the scene as we head to November. Will this be as contentious the collective bargaining law is shaping up to be?

BC: It will be contentious, but not the fever pitch that we’ve seen over Senate Bill 5, the collective bargaining law. Still, this issue does put the same basic groups, liberals versus conservatives. This ballot issue was pushed by conservatives that don’t like the new federal health care law, especially the mandate that virtually everyone buy health insurance. They say ‘how dare the federal government order people to buy anything?’ These tea party activists say they don’t like it, and they’re putting this proposal on the ballot, this constitutional amendment, that basically says Ohioans should be exempt from that insurance purchase. So, we’re going to see liberal groups come out against that and conservatives groups for it. There may be millions of dollars spent and a lot of emotion and a lot of manpower spent on both sides. But I don’t think it’s going to be the tens of millions of dollars that are going to be pouring into Ohio from national groups and activists on both sides in the other debate. That’s the other issue, the collective bargaining issue.

EM: Secretary of State Jon Husted released the order of the ballot issues in November. What can we expect to see?

BC: The first issue is going a somewhat less controversial issue put onto the ballot by legislators. That’s one that says we’re not going to force judges to retire at age 70. We’re going to lift that to age 76. There are some arguments on both sides but that’s not a hugely controversial proposal. That’ll be number one. Number two will be the referendum of the collective bargaining law and number three will be this health care proposal that the tea party folks have been proposing.

EM: Ballot issues can sometimes have some interesting wording. Any idea on that will look like?

BC: No, but you’re right. Especially on the collective bargaining issue. We may have a huge debate next week when the Ohio ballot board meets. Those five members are dominated by Republicans and they’re going to decide how to word these ballot issues. There’s some indication that Republicans who dominate may try to deal with the wording on who gets to be on the “vote no” side on that collective bargaining issue. Usually, referendums, and that’s what this proposal is, are what happens when a group hates a bill, a new law that legislators have past. The activists go out on the street and collect hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and that is supposed to put the proposal, the new law itself, up for a vote. We’ve had these ten times before in Ohio. Usually the people who hate the new law get to be on the “vote no”, usually the easier side to be on to convince people to vote no. And backers of the new law have to be on the “vote yes”. But some Republicans have been telling us ‘oh, no, the ballot board could switch that around”, and make unions and their allies and other critics of this new collective bargaining law could force them to be on the “vote yes” side. So, we’ll be at the ballot board to see what happens.