Republicans, who control the Ohio House, called a news conference April 12 to pat themselves on the back for the work they had done the first 100 days of their two year stretch in the 129th General Assembly.
The group, led by Speaker William G. Batchelder, is quite proud of some of its early accomplishments.
A particular claim that state Rep. Cheryl Grossman, a Republican from Grove City near Columbus, made when it was her turn at the podium resonated most with Politifact Ohio.
"As far as standing committees, we have 10 fewer standing committees. So we’ve saved the state about a quarter-of-a-million dollars ($250,000) through the reduction of the standing committees." said Grossman, a former Grove City mayor.
At a time when Ohio’s economy is still struggling to recover from a devastating national recession in recent years which helped blow an $8 billion deficit in the state’s budget, any amount of savings is a good thing. So PolitiFact Ohio decided to check Grossman’s figures.
We called the House Republican caucus (basically, Batchelder’s office) for an explanation and information to back up Grossman’s comments. The caucus said it verified its numbers through the House clerk’s office, which is considered independent but is run by a Republican appointed by Batchelder. (The speaker always gets to appoint the clerk and usually it is someone from the same political party.)
To start with, Batchelder eliminated 10 standing committees that existed during the 128th General Assembly under House Speaker Armond Budish, a Democrat. That dropped the number of standing committees from 27 to 17.
Above their standard annual pay, stipends are paid to leaders of the each committee: $6,500 for the chairman and $5,000 each to the vice-chairman and ranking minority member for a total of $16,500 in extra pay each year per committee.
Multiply that by 10, the number of committees eliminated, and you come away with $165,000 in annual savings. Grossman didn’t say it, but can we give her the benefit of the doubt? She meant in each year of the biennium considering lawmakers salaries are paid on an annual schedule.
So, that $165,000 over two years becomes $330,000 in savings, and that is not including the additional cost for benefits for lawmakers who receive the stipends.
But Batchelder did add three new standing sub-committees that did not exist under Budish in the previous two years. The sub-committee chair gets $5,000 and ranking minority member $2,500 (there is no vice chairman for these committees) totaling $7,500 per subcommittee. By adding three sub-committees Batchelder created a new line of expense totaling $22,000 a year in extra pay for lawmakers, not including benefits.
Subtract that from the savings generated from the elimination of sub-committees and House Republicans still save the state about $286,000.
But hold on.
While state representatives can serve in a leadership role on more than one committee they can only be paid one stipend. There were seven Democrats who pulled double duty under Budish, meaning they served as a chair or vice chair on more than one committee, but they were only paid one stipend, says House minority caucus spokesman Keary McCarthy.
Michael Dittoe, a spokesman for House majority caucus, provided the math in an e-mail. The savings on stipend payments, when the unused stipends are removed, amounts to $217,000, he said. Adding in savings from retirement costs and administrative costs that aren't incurred raises that about 17 percent to just under $254,000.
So it seems Grossman was right on the money as far as the dollars and cents in her claim.
But wait, there’s more.
Grossman says the House Republicans are "saving" the state money. That’s an attractive claim in the middle of budget season. Gov. John Kasich last month proposed a $55 billion, two year spending proposal that closes the deficit. The House is currently reviewing the proposal.
According to an analysis of the House of Representatives budget proposal, Batchelder’s leadership team is requesting the same appropriation in each of the next two years as the House is spending in the current year, just shy of $20 million per year.
"I’m not sure how one can claim savings when they are spending the exact same amount," said the Democrats McCarthy.
Politifact Ohio followed up with Dittoe. Preparing the House budget request involved use of cost projections made prior to the new General Assembly being sworn into office. Those projections anticipate increased costs, particularly for health care benefits, that prompted the House to recommend a spending plan that could cover some "worst case scenarios," he said in an e-mail.
He notes, though, that while the projections suggest healthcare costs could rise nearly $500,000 for just the members of the General Assembly, the requested budget was flat. The hope is that cuts elsewhere will cover those increases, if they come to pass. And, he added, that the exact funding level for the House won't be known until the budget is passed.
So where does that leave us?
There is an element of truth in Grossman’s claim: there are 10 fewer standing committees and the amount paid for leadership stipends will be less.
But the bigger point she made that day while standing before a throng of media, including television cameras, was that Republicans are saving Ohio $250,000.
Where’s the savings?
Republicans may have cut spending in one area -- committee costs -- but the budget request for House operations is at the same level, which means that money was redirected to be spent elsewhere. And Dittoe cited one area in particular - health costs.
That’s a critical fact that would give the listener a different impression of Grossman’s claim -- that characterizing the committee changes as a savings to the state of Ohio is misleading.
On the Truth-O-Meter, we rate Grossman’s statement as Barely True.
Editor's note: This statement was rated Barely True when it was published. On July 27, 2011, we changed the name for the rating to Mostly False.