Grapes from Thorns

Location: Cincinnati, Ohio

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Cincinnati Chamber gets pay off

The Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce has chosen to voice strong support for Senate Bill 5, the union-busting legislation passed in the spring with overwhelming Republican support in both the House and the Senate. It will now go to a vote of the people in November.

This comes as no real surprise since the Chamber’s attack on union workers is in sync with Gov. Kasich’s position and a long-term policy of support for lower wages. The Chamber was also on the wrong side of the minimum wage referendum in 2006. But this week we also learned the Cincinnati USA Partnership, an economic development organization directed by the Cincinnati Chamber has been awarded $2 million by Gov. Kasich through his controversial new JobsOhio agency.

This tax giveaway to the Cincinnati chamber does not pass the “smell test” and certainly has the appearance of a political payoff. Finding creative ways of channeling Ohioans hard-earned tax dollars into the pockets of corporate interests is not economic development but seems a primary objective of the Kasich administration. What the Cincinnati region needs is a promise from the chamber that it won’t use this windfall of taxpayer money to campaign for SB 5 or to free up other funds to do so

And to what other purposes might this new-found wealth be directed? The Ohio Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the Cincinnnati group and other metropolitan chambers of commerce, produced in the fall of 2010 a report called, “Redesigning Ohio: Transforming Government into a 21st Century Institution.”

“Redesigning Ohio” is mainly filled with radical proposals that arguably do not serve the middle class and seems to have as its primary purpose to reduce tax contributions for the state’s corporate heavyweights. This is no surprise since nearly all of the substance of the Chamber’s proposal has one source: The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)’s “State Budget Reform Toolkit.”

ALEC is a right-wing organization, founded and funded by wealthy corporations and individuals, most notoriously, the Koch brothers, who have a long history of attacking unions, encouraging voter suppression, and undermining environmental laws. ALEC is primarily a front through which America’s largest corporations can deliver legislation, like SB 5, to sympathetic legislators, like Ohio senators Shannon Jones and Tom Niehaus.

Much of the language and argument contained in both plans are strikingly similar but the most glaring common thread is the work of public policy writer David Osborne of Public Strategies Group. Osborne has been pushing something he calls “Budgeting for Outcomes” or BFO. The argument embracing BFO in both the ALEC report and the Ohio Chamber proposal is surrounded by much verbiage that makes it sound both new and harmless. It is neither.

In reality, BFO suggests to policymakers that they can be justified in slashing government expenditures to some undetermined lower level based on ideologically-driven choices because of the many positive benefits that will ensue. Cutting funding, for example, will make state government services more “creative” and will actually “improve” public services. There is no mention of layoffs, of important work not accomplished, or of the heavy tax burden passed onto local communities. It is all gently covered in a smoke-screen of happy talk about “improvements.”

Not all Ohio chamber members have simply accepted this radical political approach by the state and local chambers of commerce. When the Youngstown Chamber announced its support for Senate Bill 5, Tom Byers, general manager of A.B. Crane & Steel Service Inc., withdrew his membership as did others. “I just wish they would’ve stayed neutral on [SB 5],” Byers told the local newspaper. “I don’t see how it helps to support it so strongly.”

Small business owners who are members of the Cincinnati Chamber should ask themselves this question: There are 360,000 public union members in Ohio. Is it really in your interest to attack the police who protect your streets, the firemen who protect your homes, the teachers who teach your children, and the many ordinary people who are your customers? Is this the kind of community you want? Are these people really your enemies?

If not, then you should demand that the Cincinnati chamber withdraw its support¸ financial and otherwise, for this radical bill and that the organization no longer be led down the destructive road paved by ALEC.