Once in a blue moon, you find a politician willing to do the right thing even if it means his popularity will plummet. Recently elected Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, has announced a new budget for his cash-strapped state, and voters are none too happy. Polls show his approval rating at 40 percent, less than three months after he assumed office.
Ohio's budget is more than $8 billion in the red, thanks to a poor economy, overspending by Kasich's predecessor, and an unfriendly business environment that has pushed jobs out of state. Ohio has lost 400,000 jobs in the last four years alone. And, like other states that received money from the 2009 federal stimulus, that money saved mostly public-sector jobs -- and on a temporary basis only. Now, school districts and other state and local agencies propped up by federal dollars will have to make do on their own.
But what is different about Kasich's approach is that he's doing more than cutting spending -- he's out trying to sell his plan to a skeptical public. He could have simply released his budget, held a press conference, and then got down to the work of twisting legislators' arms. Instead, he took his plan on the road, holding a big public forum in which voters could ask questions in person or on Twitter. And he did it in his characteristic hard-charging, upbeat style. He's shown that he's willing to lead on this issue.
Kasich's budget includes both cuts in spending and innovative reform that may make those cuts less painful and more effective. On education, for example, he's capping increases in college tuition at 3.5 percent, a modest hike, but he's also insisting college professors teach one extra class every other year to keep costs down.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average college teacher spends 12 to 16 hours per week in the classroom, plus another three to six hours in the office to meet with students. According to a 2008-2009 survey by the American Association of University Professors, the average salary for full-time faculty was $79,439 -- and most teachers have three months off in the summer.
Of course, Kasich has also taken on public-employee unions in his state. He wants to drop the requirement that government pay so-called prevailing wages for school construction and other jobs, a euphemism for paying union scale for jobs where actual wages would be lower if set by market factors. And he opposes binding arbitration, which often forces untenable pay increases and higher benefits for government employers when they reach an impasse in collective bargaining.
Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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