COLUMBUS, Ohio – In another move that would limit the influence of organized labor in the state, Ohio Gov. John Kasich on Tuesday proposed exempting universities from a requirement that they pay union-level wages on construction projects.
The plan is part of the governor's two-year budget proposal that seeks to plug an $8 billion shortfall while retaining an $800 million, two-year income tax cut that went into effect in January and adding an additional $34 million in tax incentives designed to create jobs.
The budget announcement came as Kasich has voiced his support for a much contested bill that would restrict the collective bargaining rights of state employees. Hearings on the bill, which has passed the Senate and is now before the House, have drawn thousands of protesters to the Statehouse in recent weeks.
As the governor briefed the media about his budget plan, a demonstration was held by about two dozen people, including one with a sign saying "Recall King Kasich."
Other education proposals pitched by the governor would increase funding to K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and allow more charter schools, which receive state funding but are operated by private groups.
Among cost-cutting measures in the governor's plan is a proposal to sell five prisons to private operators to avoid mass closures and raise $200 million that was covered in the last state budget with federal stimulus dollars.
Two of the five prisons already are privately run. Combined, the four adult prisons employ 1,238 people — including 755 security guards — and house 6,059 inmates, according to information from the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Their combined budgets are $98 million a year.
Under Ohio law, private operators have to deliver a 5 percent savings over similar, public facilities — which the state estimates will mean $9.3 million over the two-year budget cycle.
In his education plan, Kasich seeks to add $67 million in aid to higher education, with an increase of 2.7 percent in the 2012 budget year and an increase of 0.9 percent the following year. He proposes a 2 percent increase in K-12 funding the first year, followed by a 1.5 percent increase.
He suggests continuing a cap of 3.5 percent on tuition increases, creating three-year bachelor's degree programs and increasing teaching loads for faculty.
The plans were met with praise from some university presidents.
"I am grateful to Gov. Kasich, whose proposed budget reflects the unquestionable financial challenges of the day, as well as the understanding that higher education and our state's long-term strength are inextricably linked," said Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee.
University of Cincinnati President Gregory H. Williams said the school is "very appreciative that Gov. Kasich's proposed budget has done as much as possible to support higher education and suggests some first steps toward much-needed construction reform."
Kasich also wants to double the number of scholarships that allow students in low-performing schools to attend private schools, give bonuses to high-performing teachers and allow teachers to create centers for innovation.
The prison facilities the governor has targeted are North Coast Correctional Treatment Facility and Grafton Correctional Institution, both in Grafton; North Central Correctional Institution in Marion; Lake Erie Correctional Institution in Conneaut; and a juvenile prison in Marion that closed in 2009.
Prisons director Gary Mohr said no employee who wants to stay in corrections will lack for a job under the plan.
Six-month early retirement will be offered to about 100 eligible employees at Grafton and North Coast, and unions will be able to collectively bargain for how other positions will be filled. Those with seniority will be able to bump less experienced guards at other state facilities, and jobs will be available at private facilities for those bumped from the public sector — most likely those not vested in the state pension system.
Ohio received about $300 million in federal stimulus money toward prisons in its last budget, Kasich said, and the move is necessary to make up that gap. Without the sales, the state would have been forced to close six prisons and ship 12,000 inmates to neighboring states, he said.
The state will continue to oversee the most volatile or sensitive inmates, including maximum-security prisoners, women and those with mental health or medical issues.
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