You have to wonder whether the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s endorsement of Issue 2 has compromised its PolitiFact service as an objective arbitrator of factual claims in politics. Until today, the only claims it has examined by Issue 2 supporters was whether Mayor Bell lost his job as a firefighter temporarily in the 1980s, a claim that nobody disputed, and whether Issue 2 would save money (a claim that has only been opposed based on the fact that we don’t know how much wages will be increased in bargaining to offset losses in benefits… a criticism that the Plain Dealer said was a valid caveat, and yet still rated it as “Mostly True” when similar caveats by We Are Ohio’s claims have resulted in “Mostly False” ratings.)
Today, the Plain Dealer‘s PolitiFact examined State Auditor Dave Yost’s claim: “The city of Columbus would save $41 million a year if employees had to contribute to their own, guaranteed-check pensions.”
How does Yost reach that figure? Well, the Plain Dealer reports that Yost based it on a Columbus Dispatch article before the bill passed that analyzed what the fiscal impact of the bill would be if its provisions were in force today. The assumption being that the ban of pension pickups was already in force. If that were the case, the Plain Dealer finds that the figure is much lower because under Mayor Coleman, the city is expecting its union employees to contribute to their pensions. In other words, the City of Columbus already requires them this year to contribute to their pensions, but at a much smaller saving since it’s not a total ban on a pickup yet.
But that’s not all. The Plain Dealer glosses over the biggest fallacy in the Dispatch‘s and Yost’s claim. Assume for the moment that SB 5 was signed into law and there was no referendum and it was in full force today. Do you know how much the City of Columbus would save on pension pickups this year? Nothing. Not a penny. Why? Because under its express terms, SB 5’s ban on pension pickups and other common terms in collective bargaining agreements does not affect collective bargaining agreements already in place when the law became effective.
According to the Plain Dealer‘s own PolitiFact column:
Columbus picks up a portion of employee pension contributions under contracts with six unions. Topping the list are workers represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. They receive a 9 percent pickup, according to numbers Williamson shared. Workers in three other unions get an 8 percent pickup, one union gets 6.5 percent and another 5.5 percent.
The only way you get the $40 million in savings for every year is that you first have to presume that SB 5 is in effect and then you have to ignore the provision of SB 5 that says none of its terms are effective against existing collective bargaining agreements. In other words, you suspend all reality.
Since this point is being made as to why Issue 2 should not be defeated, it would seem relevant to point out that these claimed savings are entirely a political fantasy as they will not be achieved even if Issue 2 is not defeated in November. Omitting that the validity of Yost’s claim about pension pickups in Columbus has no real bearing on Issue 2 is a shockingly flaw of omission in the Plain Dealer‘s “analysis” of the claim.
And that brings me to my larger point that the Cleveland Plain Dealer glossed over, the City of Columbus is already seeing savings in weaning pensions pickups in its collective bargaining agreements already within the construct of existing labor law. Issue 2 is unnecessary to force this to happen as it’s occurring on its own.
By the Plain Dealer‘s own reporting, a person if presented the full facts on Issue 2 will realize that the City of Columbus will save no more money if it is passed and has already worked with its labor unions to ween the practice of pension pickups. That’s what a full, factual analysis of Yost’s claims should have objectively concluded. Now, it’s up to the Cleveland Plain Dealer to explain why it didn’t, and why anyone should view its PolitiFact service as truly objective.