Ohio2006 Blog

News, analysis, and comments on Ohio elections.

Wednesday, March 8

Ballot Issues: Republicans Attempt Legislative Ploy to Defuse Wage Issue

As reported in the Toledo Blade here and the Columbus Dispatch here, Republican legislators in the Ohio House of Representatives yesterday revealed a ploy to sabotage a potential minimum wage ballot issue in the fall by attaching a modest increase to Ohio’s minimum wage to a controversial bill reducing workers’ compensation benefits for injured workers. If passed, it would be the first such increase in fifteen years, and would raise the minimum wage from $4.25 per hour to the federal minimum of $5.15, less than the contemplated ballot issue rate of $6.85. At present, the state minimum wage law only affects workers not covered by the federal law, or approximately 200,000 to 300,000 people. However, if the state law were set higher than the federal minimum, as would be sought in the ballot issue, then something like a million Ohio workers would benefit.

Democrats oppose the balance of the bill, dealing with the Bureau of Workers' Compensation, for a variety of reasons, as explained in the Dispatch article:

"Democrats ... criticized the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation overhaul, saying it strips workers of benefits while doing nothing to address the bureau’s investment scandals. ... Rep. Dan Stewart, a Columbus Democrat, said the bill would reduce benefits and argued that a vote should be delayed ... . "You can’t have hundreds of millions of dollars going out the backdoor while you’re reducing benefits to injured workers," Stewart said. "It just looks bad, whether there’s a direct correlation or not." ... Democrats also criticized an increase in what bureau investment managers can contribute to state political campaigns, from $250 to $1,000."

The Republican strategy here is as clear as it is repugnant. Republicans will force Democrats to vote against the increase, then use that vote to attack Democrats and to confuse the voters about the minimum wage issue in the fall. Ohio businesses won't like the increase, but it's a small price to pay for deflecting the criticism that Ohio Republicans would have faced for failing to raise the minimum wage for so long, and for allowing Ohio to be one of only two states (the other is Kansas) to permit their minimum wage law to lag behind the federal standard.

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