It’s been nearly a half-year since the Governor and Ohio General Assembly have been in office. Many bills have been proposed and introduced. Some have already been enacted. Others, like the 2-year budget bill, must be passed by the end of June.
There are many ways to evaluate and rate our state elected officials’ six month long record. One that must be included is how they’ve done creating or expanding democracy. Specifically, have proposals or enacted laws advanced or retarded the ability of citizens to govern ourselves? Keep elected officials in check? Control the power and authority of business corporations (which were never intended by our state’s and nations’ founders to possess political rights).
The record of Governor Kasich and the Republican controlled Ohio House and Senate isn’t pretty seen through this prism. The list of assaults on self-governance is long. The proposals to expand corporate power and authority are exhaustive.
For the sake of brevity (and to provide a nice round number), here are 10 anti-democratic/pro-corporate proposals (two are already law) promoted by the Governor, passed by the Ohio House or proposed by the Ohio Senate.
This is more than a proposal but a law passed in February to “privatize” (a more accurate term is “corporatize”) the job creation functions of the Ohio Department of Development. The private organization, composed of corporate heads appointed by the Governor, who is also on the Board, would receive state support yet is exempt from public-records and open-meeting laws. So much for the public knowing the job creation strategy of their state funded, in part, by their tax dollars. Progress Ohio is challenging the constitutionality of this law.
For a background on constitutional questions, see http://createrealdemocracy.blogspot.com/2011/02/testimony-on-ohio-house-bill-1.html
In general, privatizing/corporatizing a public asset, service or function results in greater costs, poorer service, fewer jobs, and/or greater loss of public control as decisions are shifted to private corporate leaders.
2. Corporatize Ohio liquor operations
A major state moneymaker, the Ohio Senate in their proposed budget calls for leasing the state’s liquor operations to JobsOhio. Profits would be used to fund the new private/corporate agency.
3. Corporatize Ohio turnpikes
Governor Kasich has called for leasing the Ohio turnpike, netting an estimated $2.5 billion. Many, including the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, oppose the proposal. Fears about a loss of public control will result in sharp toll increases and/or diminished upkeep is based on the record in other locals, i.e. Indiana, Chicago.
4. Corporatize Ohio prisons
Governor Kasich had originally called for corporatizing five Ohio prisons. One more was added in the House bill. The estimated take by the state is $200 million. Prisons are very profitable businesses across the country. The history of corporate prisons is a history of corners cut (i.e. reduction of staff and services) to increase profits. A former Kasich congressional chief of staff and longtime advisor, Don Thibaut, is now a lobbyist. A new client is Corrections Corporations of America (CCA), one of the major corporate operators of prisons in the nation. CCA operates one federal prison in Ohio, the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown. That facility has had a host of safety issues over the years, including murders and stabbings. The proposed Senate budget removes House budget provisions that would exempt prison corporations from state and local income, sales and use taxes and the commercial activity tax.
5. Corporatize Ohio lottery
In an blatantly and galling undemocratic move, the proposed Senate budget bill calls for turning over the state lottery to the GTECH corporation, which hopes to manage the state’s $2.5 billion daily operation. The language in the bill was drafted by the GTECH corporation, which once ran a portion of the state’s lottery system. The Senate language was virtually unchanged from the GTECH corporation draft. There was no public hearing. The proposal simply was inserted into the Senate bill.
6. Corporatize schools
The recent disclosure by the Associated Press that lobbyists for David Brennan on behalf of his White Hat Management corporation not only lobbied Ohio House speaker William Batchelder on charter schools but actually prepared legislative wording favorable to his corporation is nothing new and, more disturbing, legal. The $217,000 in political campaign “contributions” by the Brennans over the last two years to Ohio Republicans was a pretty good investment. Nine out of 11 items on Brennan’s/White Hat corporation’s “wish list” allowing for-profit corporations to operate schools without oversight from nonprofit sponsors ended up to some degree in the final House budget bill. The proposed Senate budget bill eliminates several House budget provisions, including allowing charters to launch and operate without a school sponsor and prohibiting school employees from collective bargaining.
7. Abolishing collective bargaining for public employees
Senate bill 5 was promoted originally by the Governor as saving money. It’s actually about reducing the rights and powers of people at their workplace to defend themselves against their employers. Other provisions of the bill include a restriction on public workers contributing to a political action committee through a payroll deduction, a ban on requiring “fair share” fees – union dues paid by union workers who decide not to join their union, and a provision to make it easier to decertify a union. No wonder hundreds of thousands of signatures have been gathered on referendum petitions to overturn the law.
8. Preemption of local laws
Hidden in the proposed Senate bill is one of many provisions having nothing at all to do with spending – banning local governments from barring the use of restaurants from using transfats in their food. Never mind that such laws are within the local municipalities right to protect the “health, safety and welfare” of their residents. Preemption of local laws by the state is a well-used strategy by corporations to evade local control. The state has been lobbied in recent years by the gun industry, gas drilling corporations, payday lenders and others to usurp the authority of local elected officials.
9. Restricting voting
The House passed in March what many claim was the nation’s most restrictive voter identification law. The legislation mandates prospective voters to show at the polls government-issued photo ID -- Ohio driver's license, state ID, military ID or passport. It excluded student IDs issued by state colleges. The bill was passed without any examples of voter fraud under current laws. The result is likely to be a disenfranchisement of people of color, students, seniors and the low income – all of whom national studies have shown possess lower rates of state-issued IDs. The first hearing of the Senate version of this bill, HB 194, is before the Senate Government Oversight and Reform committee this Thursday.
10. Removing consumer protection information from the public
The House budget bill calls for eliminating from customer bills and notices contact information for the Ohio Consumer’s Counsel. Consumers gouged by utility corporations or having other complaints about any actions by any corporation may not know about the existence of the Counsel without included information. Interestingly, the House bill also included a gag order on the agency taking positions “contrary to the development of competitive markets in Ohio, including state policies pertaining to natural gas." So much for government checks and balances.
Not all these proposals are yet law. Some, in fact, that passed the Ohio House have been removed in the proposed Ohio Senate budget bill. This doesn’t mean, however, the anti-democratic provisions won’t end up in the final bill – only that they will be reconciled when representatives of both chambers sit down and negotiate a final budget bill.
A final Senate vote is scheduled for this Wednesday. Contact your State Senator and weigh in with your views (go to http://www.ohiosenate.gov/ for a list). Corporate agents and lobbyists certainly have.