Kentucky Counties Look to Embrace Right to Work

Kentucky, or at least several counties in Kentucky, looks to join the ranks of economic freedom lovers that respect real employee fairness by becoming Right to Work.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s James Sherk in the National Review,

“The momentum for right-to-work measures at the local level across the country might be gaining steam: Kentucky’s Warren County, which includes the city of Bowling Green, just passed a local right-to-work ordinance. A 5–1 bipartisan majority of the county legislature voted to make union dues voluntary for private-sector workers.

The measure comes up for a second and final reading next week. If it passes, then unions will lose the ability to compel workers in Warren County (home to a sizeable GM plant) to pay union dues — at least until the inevitable court challenge.”

Although there are lingering legal questions as to whether Kentucky counties can pass local right to work laws, Sherk makes a compelling case they can and that it represents an exciting new trend. According to media accounts, Simpson County, Kentucky, will consider a similar local ordinance this week.

These local governments are making a major statement that they are not going to wait for the Kentucky legislature to act.  Rather, they are going to make their counties as free and fair as possible, doing so immediately.  Should this prove successful in Kentucky, it would represent a model worthy of emulation.  With discussions beginning in the Kentucky legislature over a statewide Right-to-Work law in 2015 and rumblings in Wisconsin over a similar effort, 2015 could easily become a banner year for economic freedom and employee fairness.

The question for Ohio is whether it will follow suit or remain stuck in neutral while all of its neighbors pass it by.  If so, it will find itself in a lonely position as one of the least free and fair states in the Midwest. 

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EPA’s Clean Power Plan Will Hit Ohio’s Most Vulnerable the Hardest

A new report by Dr. Wayne Winegarden at the Pacific Research Institute strengthens the case for free energy markets and shows how government-mandated “green energy” policies deliver unintended consequences.

Dr. Winegarden finds that while the EPA’s Clean Power Plan will increase electricity prices for all Ohioans, the cost increases will have a disparate impact on poor and minority households:

“Under EPA’s new regulations, the average annual electricity cost would rise from 2.9 percent of the average Ohio household’s income to 3.9 percent.  For the average African-American household, average annual spending on electricity would rise from 4.5 percent to 5.8 percent. Lower-income African-Americans would bear an even larger burden. Households in lower-income African-American neighborhoods would be hardest hit with the cost of electricity equaling 26 percent of household income, or even higher.”

In fact, all low-income persons will be disproportionately affected. The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2013 Consumer Expenditure Survey shows that while those in the lowest income quintile spend 9.6 percent of their after-tax income on electricity, those in the highest income quintile use only 1.4 percent—despite total electricity expenditures being twice as high.

Dr. Winegarden also cites Advanced Energy for Life that “a record 115 million [people] qualify for energy assistance and more than half of Americans have said that as little as a $20 increase in utility bills would cause hardship.”

According to federal data, in 2013 over 530,000 Ohioans received energy assistance. In 2015 these programs will receive $133.5 million in funding to help people up to 175% of the poverty line pay their bills. Winegarden rightly notes that as EPA mandates increase energy costs, taxes must rise to supplement the increased demand for these programs.

Now is an unfortunate time for federal regulations to increase electricity bills and push people into energy poverty. The Energy Information Administration reports that American’s energy expenditures are currently well below their long-term average. From 1960 to 2013, energy costs ranged from 4 to 8 percent of disposable income and averaged 5.5 percent. The most recent data put energy budgets at 5 percent. Interestingly, energy expenditures decreased despite energy price increases exceeding the rate of inflation from 1960-2013. Lower energy expenditures are good for consumers because spending less on electricity and gas allows them to spend more on other items like education and retirement savings.

EIA attributes today’s lower expenditures to factors such as more fuel-efficient cars and better home heating methods. The Buckeye Institute has also identified another factor at work in Ohio—the suspension under Senate Bill 310 of Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) enacted in 2008.

As Buckeye Institute Policy Analyst Greg R. Lawson testified before the Ohio House Public Utilities Committee, RPS standards artificially raise energy prices by forcing utilities to use a legislated percentage of less efficient “renewable” energy sources. SB 310 provided a temporary respite from these economically damaging measures.

This analysis underscores two important points. One, free market reforms such as SB 310 help ordinary Ohioans by lowering prices. Two, while perhaps well intentioned, “green energy” mandates can wind up damaging the most economically vulnerable among us. The best policy going forward is to continue the suspension of RPS standards. Policy makers should also ameliorate the EPA regulations by pushing for reforms that make energy producers compete and allow individuals to choose energy suppliers based on who provides the best value for their needs.

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Check Out Ohio’s Checkbook

As previously mentioned, Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel’s new Ohio Checkbook is a wonderful tool.  In this clip from WHIO in Dayton, Treasurer Mandel and our own Statehouse Liaison, Greg R. Lawson, discuss the benefits of transparency for Ohio taxpayers!

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Sunlight and Major Kudos to OH Treasurer Josh Mandel

We have big news to share, if you haven’t already seen your Columbus DispatchCleveland Plain DealerDayton Daily NewsToledo BladeCincinnati EnquirerAkron Beacon Journal or any of the more than 30 other Ohio newspapers that ran the story yesterday.

The Buckeye Institute’s public salary databases served as the first major government transparency initiatives in Ohio.  Since our launch of the project four years ago, there have been nearly 12 million searches performed on our website.

We always hoped that one day the government itself would provide this same kind of information directly to taxpayers, but truly never believed that day would come — let alone in our lifetimes.

Accordingly, we could not be more excited that our pipedream has become reality.  Many thanks to all of you who supported our efforts to shine some sunshine into the dark recesses of government checkbooks.

Insert your own drumroll here, please.  You may have read in your local paper (nearly all of them cited Buckeye’s groundbreaking work on this issue) that Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel has enacted The Buckeye Institute’s longstanding vision that state government would be open and transparent, disclosing its spending line by line to the taxpayers who support its operation.  In so doing, Mandel propelled Ohio to lead the nation on government transparency, setting the new standard for accountability.  Mandel deserves major kudos for having the courage to complete this project against the wishes of almost every elected official in the state.

The new “Ohio Checkbook” that Treasurer Mandel has launched is a comprehensive and user-friendly database that tracks every state government expenditure going back to 2008 — eclipsing even Buckeye’s own work for the past four years!  This database is — to second Tina Turner’s sentiment — “simply the best, better than all the rest.”

Last year, Mandel generously lauded The Buckeye Institute, stating:

 ”I met with the Buckeye Institute before formally launching the Treasurer’s Transparency Project because they are pioneers on government transparency initiatives in Ohio.  They were the first Ohio organization to take public employee salary data and other relevant public information and put it online in usable and searchable databases, and we thought that state government should build upon their success.  We have been proud to partner with the Buckeye Institute on initiatives to expand government transparency and accountability, and continue to be grateful for their leadership on these important issues.”

Buckeye’s lead government transparency expert, our Statehouse Liaison and Policy Analyst, Greg R. Lawson, testified today before the Ohio Senate on the issue as well.  The pending “Open Ohio” bill would codify the Treasurer’s efforts so that a future officeholder would not be able to simply pull the shades back down on Ohio taxpayers and block that crucial disinfecting sunlight.

Mr. Lawson stated in his testimony, “…transparency helps citizens understand what questions to ask of their government officials.  When empowered in this way, taxpayers can facilitate real change and greater fiscal accountability.”

 

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An Idea Whose Time Has Come — Testifying on Criminal Intent

Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” wrote Victor Hugo, in History of A Crime – published in 1877.

We could not agree more.

Buckeye’s President, Robert Alt, has been a longtime leader in defending Americans from becoming victims of hyperactive laws designed to criminalize ordinary behavior.  He previously taught criminal law at Case Western Reserve University School of Law in Cleveland, following which he led a successful project on the topic of over-criminalization while serving as a Director for former Attorney General Ed Meese in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

It is, therefore, fitting that the issue of over-criminalization finally earned its day of hearings at Ohio’s Statehouse.  Indeed, Robert testified before the Ohio Senate Criminal Justice Committee earlier this week about this particular idea whose time has come, after many weeks working with leaders in the Ohio Senate.  This legislation would prevent Ohioans from unwittingly being criminalized for running afoul of unknown or arcane laws, and is long overdue.

In his testimony, Robert explained,

“The default rule in SB 361 seeks to assure that the traditional requirement of a culpable mind is present in each material element of an offense, except where the General Assembly plainly indicates that it wishes to dispense with the requirement.  In so doing, the language reduces the risk that Ohioans who are seeking to follow the rules may nonetheless run afoul of the criminal law without having a guilty mind.”

The bill cleared the committee earlier this morning.

To celebrate Buckeye’s testifying, we are sending out individual copies of the seminal book on over-criminalization published when Robert was at Heritage, One Nation Under Arrest, while supplies last.*

 

For any particularly cheapskate Buckeye Institute readers, holiday gift shopping for your in-laws can be completed without spending a dime — wrap up an education on the issue of over-criminalization, compliments of The Buckeye Institute!

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Labor Force Nearly Repeats Last Month’s Record Gain, Private Sector Added 8,400 Jobs

The latest Ohio by the Numbers report (now available on The Buckeye Institute’s website) shows that Ohio’s economy gained 1,000 non-farm jobs during October.  The addition of 8,400 private sector jobs more than offset the loss of 7,400 jobs in the government sector.

Ohio’s unemployment rate dropped from 5.6 percent in September to 5.3 percent in October-a solid decline that went hand-in-hand with an unusually large rise of more than 10,000 workers in Ohio’s labor force.  However, Ohio’s labor force is still down 25,000 workers since the beginning of 2014.  And although the state’s labor force participation rate ticked up slightly in October, rising to 62.9 percent, it is still down 0.6 percent since October 2013.

October marks the second consecutive month of a declining unemployment rate combined with a growing labor force.  Although two months do not make a trend, they may offer a promising sign of a more robust economic rebound ahead-a rebound the state desperately needs as its private sector job growth rate ranks only 29th nationally since 2010 (7.8 percent) and 47th since 1990 (10.2 percent).

Highlights from the report include:

  • Ohio gained 8,400 private sector and shed 7,400 total government jobs in October;
  • Ohio’s unemployment rate dipped markedly to 5.3 percent;
  • Ohio ranked 29th nationally in private sector job growth since January 2010, increasing 7.8 percent;
  • Ohio currently ranks 47th nationally for private sector job growth since January of 1990, increasing 10.2 percent (top-ranked North Dakota grew 100.3 percent during the same time span).

For the full report, please click here.

For the full labor force update, click here.

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Lame Duck Legislation, Not Necessarily Fishy or Fowl

Columbus is currently abuzz with the “lame duck.”  By all accounts, the origin of the phrase “lame duck” is 18th century London.  It referred to, quite literally, a duck who could not keep up with the rest of the ducks in its flock.  It was then quickly adapted to work as an insult used to describe a person who didn’t make good on his debts.

Having crossed the pond and arrived in common usage in the United States over the next few centuries, it now ironically refers to the period following an election when those who have lost their elections, been term-limited out of office, or opted not to seek re-election nonetheless have a final chance to make an impact on legislation before the newly-elected replacements are sworn into service.

As Ohio’s General Assembly works through its lame duck session for a final push, one of the most important pieces of legislation it will consider is the completely un-sexy, but desperately necessary, reform of Ohio’s broken municipal income tax system.

Ohio’s municipal income tax system is the ”most complicated, absurd, and punitive” in the country.  It is a primary reason that Ohio ranks 44th (that’s right, 6th from the bottom!) in the Tax Foundation’s 2015 state business tax index.  Thinking back to the origin of the phrase in jolly old England, the real lame duck here is our municipal income tax system.

Strong medicine is necessary, with bold changes required to get our state back on track to compete with the rest of the strong and healthy ducks who surround Ohio.  Buckeye’s policy analyst, Greg R. Lawson, recently published a report and offered legislative testimony suggesting improvements to the current municipal income tax bill that underscore the need to make Ohio’s municipal income tax system ”simpler, more uniform, and more equitable for small businesses.”

Lame duck sessions are notorious for producing bills that host all kinds of special interest goodie giveaways that don’t redound to taxpayers’ benefit.  This time, let’s work together to keep the General Assembly focused on healing the lame duck municipal income tax system so it can keep up with the rest of the ducks who are flying ahead of us and leaving us behind in Ohio.

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