- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 17, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Ohio Gov. John Kasich and top Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they’re offering to discuss weakening a new law limiting collective bargaining in an attempt to keep a repeal effort off the November ballot.

Mr. Kasich’s administration released a letter asking for a meeting Friday to discuss a compromise with 10 union leaders authorized to negotiate on behalf of We Are Ohio, the group pushing for a repeal of the law.

Mr. Kasich, Senate President Tom Niehaus, and House Speaker William Batchelder discussed the letter at a hastily called afternoon news conference.

At the same time, Mr. Kasich, a first-term Republican, offered no guarantees for a compromise.

“Just because we talk doesn’t mean we work it all out,” he said. “But I think the public would like (for) us to sit down and talk.”

The two-page letter reiterates supporters’ backing for the collective bargaining overhaul and their confidence they can win in the fall, but it also signals a desire to avoid a costly ballot battle. Mr. Kasich told reporters he thought the state was headed in the right direction.

In the letter, Mr. Kasich and the legislative leaders say voters and bond rating agencies have been increasingly frustrated with political brinksmanship in Washington surrounding the debate in Congress over the nation’s debt limit.

“We have a fleeting opportunity in Ohio to take the higher road,” they wrote.

We Are Ohio spokeswoman Melissa Fazekas said the group continues to oppose the collective bargaining measure and called on lawmakers to rescind it if they want to see the repeal question removed from the Nov. 8 ballot.

She said the administration had never contacted We Are Ohio’s campaign manager.

“I think it’s awfully funny to now be standing here and talking about coming to the table when this entire bill takes away their rights to do so,” she said.

The law restricts collective bargaining rights for more than 350,000 teachers, police officers, state employees and others. It bans public employee strikes and gets rid of automatic pay increases, replacing them with merit raises or performance pay.

It also allows public worker unions to negotiate wages, but not health care, sick time or pension benefits.

The measure was approved by the Republican-controlled state Legislature in March amid shouts and jeers from protesters in each chamber. Mr. Kasich signed it the same month, but it is blocked from taking effect until voters have their say.

Senate Democratic Leader Capri Cafaro, whose caucus opposed the measure, interpreted Wednesday’s letter as an admission by Mr. Kasich and GOP leaders that it is flawed.

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