Pigs can fly, and politicians can vote to cut their own pay.
That's the message from House Democrats. They’re using a vote on a bill that purported to cut salaries of General Assembly members by 5 percent to bolster a number of their Statehouse candidates. Holding onto those House seats is critical for Democrats this election as they cling to a 53-46 edge over Republicans.
Typical of the advertisements is a mailer sent out by Rep. Matt Patten, a Strongsville Democrat locked in a tight re-election battle with Republican Mike Dovilla. The mailer announces in large lettering, "Why I voted to cut my own pay."
Patten explains in the mailer that he voted to cut the pay of state employees, but also took a hit in his own wallet.
"Unfortunately everyone needs to cut back in these tough economic times," he says in the mailer. "That's why I voted to cut my own pay along with the pay of our state employees."
House Democrats around the state are citing this vote in a number of races, so we decided to take a closer look at this claim.
The pay cut was actually a Republican idea before Democrats seized it. Rep. Seth Morgan, a Dayton-area Republican, included the 5-percent pay cut bill idea as stand-alone measure in House Bill 210, which was introduced on June 9, 2009.
That bill went nowhere for months. Democrats latched onto the idea in October 2009 and inserted the 5-percent pay cut plan into a measure that delayed a 4.2 percent state income tax cut for all Ohioans.
The so-called freeze on the income tax cut provided $844 million the state needed to shore up its budget, which had a hole in it after legal wranglings halted a plan to raise revenue by allowing slot machines at Ohio's horse tracks.
Republicans saw the freeze as a tax increase, so the bill containing the freeze and the pay cut passed on a mostly partisan vote. Only two Republicans joined all 53 Democrats in voting for it. Later, the Republican-controlled Ohio Senate stripped the provision from the legislation, so it never actually became law.
So Patten and the other House Democrats did vote to cut their own pay, right? Not so fast, dear reader.
A section of the the Ohio Constitution actually prohibits members of the General Assembly from changing their own pay.
The bill analysis done by the non-partisan Legislative Service Commission spells this out very clearly. "Because, however, Ohio Constitution, Article II, Section 31 prohibits changing the compensation of General Assembly members during their terms of office, the 5-percent reduction in salary and supplements will not affect officers and members who are currently holding office," reads the analysis.
"This portion of the bill goes into effect on the 91st day after the bill is filed with the Secretary of State and the pay changes apply only to those members whose terms of office commence on or after January 1, 2011," it concludes.
House Democrats argue that the lawmakers making this claim intend to be back in the next legislature session -- if they are re-elected.
"No one is claiming this who doesn't intend to come back to the legislature and serve," said House Democratic Caucus spokesman Keary McCarthy.
Maybe so, but the fact remains that the pay cut was for the members of the next legislature. Patten and the others didn't actually vote to cut their own pay, but instead cut the pay of whomever holds their seats in 2011.
PolitiFact Ohio has rated as False claims that accuse lawmakers of raising their own salaries when the pay increases didn’t take effect until the next term of office. The rationale was that if a legislator has be re-elected before being eligible for the pay raise, there is no guarantee that they would ever see the money. We ruled in those cases that voters actually granted the pay raise when they sent them back for another term.
That same rationale applies here. Patten and other House Democrats are making an issue out of a vote that purported to cut lawmakers’ pay by 5 percent.
They claim they cut their own pay in the measure which ultimately wasn't adopted.
However, even if the measure had been adopted, the Ohio Constitution would have prevented the pay from taking effect until the next General Assembly is seated.
- So they actually didn't vote to cut their own pay. They cut the pay for members of the next legislature, which may or may not include them.
Therefore, we find this claim to be false.