Think of our cafes and dry cleaners, says Ohio as budget slashes WFH for govt workers

These expensive office buildings aren't for decoration – and that goes for the rest of ya, too

Government employees of the US state of Ohio are in for a rude awakening - and commute - if the state's budget bill for the next year passes, as it includes an amendment that will limit those workers to one day a week of working from home.

The amendment was added to the Ohio Senate's version of the budget bill, which passed on June 15, and prohibits full-time state employees from working from their place of residence for more than eight hours per week over the next fiscal year. While exceptions are made, they're limited to employees of courts or state judicial agencies, those granted accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and state employees working in excess of 40 hours a week.

"You do more work, you do more effective work, when you are physically present at your workplace," Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman told NBC4. 

If the amendment isn't nixed before making its way to Governor Mike DeWine for signature, the rule takes effect for all state employees on October 1. Full-time employees of the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce get their own special rule requiring them to return to the office four days a week beginning August 1.

In Ohio's capital city of Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther expressed support for the amendment, saying state employees such as police, firefighters, and garbage collectors didn't have the luxury of working remotely, and with the COVID-19 pandemic over, no one else does, either.

"We've been back in person for a long period of time now," Ginther said. "Having those folks back in the office will be very important for our restaurants, our coffee shops, our dry cleaners."

'We didn't see this coming'

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost expressed some surprise to the amendment. "This isn't something that has been debated or discussed; we didn't see this coming," he said. The Ohio AG said the three-month gap between passage of the bill and enactment of the remote work amendment "will give us plenty of time to work through this," he added. 

Local politicians have been quiet on the bill since it passed the Senate earlier this month (it passed the House in April) and time is running out to oppose the legislation: Ohio's constitution specifies that Congress needs to have its annual budget to the Governor's desk by June 30, as the fiscal year begins July 1. 

The bill is now in a conference committee after the House refused to concur with the Senate's amendments, and it appears the conference committee has already once refused to move the senate's version for the same reason: amendments. 

It's not clear if the remote work amendment is part of the holdup. We reached out to six members of Ohio's state legislature who are heading up the conference committee, and no one could provide an update on the status of the bill or its amendments. 

We also tried to reach Governor DeWine to find out his position on the remote work amendment, though his office's mailbox was full and wouldn't let us leave a message. 

According to the conference committee's website on the House of Representatives side, the next meeting will be held on June 28, giving the committee just two days to finalize a version of the 9,189-page bill to send to the governor.

The remote work debate heats up

If you haven't been outside lately, it's pretty clear the world is over the COVID-19 pandemic - but the commercial real-estate market hasn't kept up.

Take California, for example, where most recently the former headquarters of the State Bar of California was sold recently for some $62 million (£48.6m) - far shy of the $85m it was expected to be worth. 

The California State Bar transitioned to a permanent hybrid work model in 2022, and had trouble finding lessees for its headquarters, making a sale the logical choice. As the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out, that's hardly the only commercial building to make a loss recently, with two other downtown SF offices selling for a fraction of their previously estimated values. 

Across the country in Washington, DC, asset manager Brookfield Corporation defaulted in April on a $161.4 million mortgage it had taken out on a dozen offices in the national capital because no one is renting space to pay the bills. 

In other words, excuses can be made about the importance of coffee houses, fast food joints, and laundry facilities, or how you can't advance your career from afar, but the bottom line is that property values and their investors' bank accounts are on the line, so get back to work where we can see you and justify that overhead.

Unfortunately for those who don't count themselves among the investors, not owning a stake in a million-dollar office building doesn't mean a commercial property crash – predicted to be bigger than the 2008 financial crisis – won't affect you. 

A lot of commercial properties are owned by banks that might not be able to absorb the losses, and lots of pension funds have invested in commercial real estate as well. If they fall, there's no telling how bad the ripple effect could be. ®

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