COLUMBUS, Ohio (Reuters) - The governor of Ohio, one of three U.S. Midwestern states considering bills to strip public sector unions of bargaining rights, said on Tuesday his new budget will not raise taxes but will require deep spending cuts.
Republican Governor John Kasich said the state must stem the tide of 400,000 lost jobs in the past four years by keeping taxes in check despite the need to fill an $8 billion deficit in its next two-year budget, which he will unveil next week.
Kasich promised to address what he called “structural imbalances” in the budget and said the proposal to curtail bargaining rights for public employees was a key component.
“We’re trying to give everybody flexibility from state rules and regulations,” Kasich said.
“Frankly, folks, the provisions of collective bargaining reform are examples of what we want to do to allow people to control their costs,” he said, setting off cat-calls from the gallery in the legislative chamber.
He warned spending cuts included in the budget proposal would hit local governments hard.
“Reform and restructuring cannot take us all the way to a balanced budget, it can‘t,” Kasich told the Republican-led legislature in his state-of-the-state address.
Pro-union demonstrators packed the Capitol rotunda after the speech, shouting “Kill the Bill.”
Ohio is the biggest U.S. state to consider sweeping restrictions on public sector unions in what has become a growing national debate over labor union power.
Measures aimed at public employee unions also have been introduced in Wisconsin and Indiana. The solid Republican majority in Ohio makes it the only state of the three where Democratic votes are not needed to pass the measure.
Democrats in Wisconsin and Indiana have fled to Illinois to deny Republicans a quorum to vote on the bills.
The Republican leader of the Ohio house, which takes up the bill on Wednesday after the Senate passed it last week, says he wants at least three weeks of debate on the measure that bans strikes by government workers among other curbs on unions representing teachers, firefighters and other workers.
Democrat state senator Capri Cafaro said Republicans have “shut the door on us” as far as altering the union bill.
Kasich said his budget will look to save money by not pushing the elderly into nursing homes, changing sentencing guidelines for inmates with short prison terms, and administering the Medicaid insurance program differently.
Writing by Andrew Stern; editing by John Whitesides