A statewide TV commercial urging rejection of Issue 2 tells viewers that rank-and-file public workers are willing to make sacrifices in order to reduce the cost of government while powerful politicians who make the rules are finding ways to avoid the pain.
Issue 2 is the voter referendum on Senate Bill 5, a new law that reduces collective bargaining power for public workers and makes several other changes to Ohio’s collective bargaining law. If voters reject Issue 2 on Nov. 8, SB 5 will be repealed.
We Are Ohio, backed by labor groups and Democrats, produced the commercial, which has been in heavy rotation lately. The commercial flashes an image of Republican Gov. John Kasich, an Issue 2 supporter, while a narrator describes the sacrifices politicians have demanded of public workers to help balance the state budget.
"But those same politicians exploited a loophole exempting themselves from Senate Bill 5," the narrator says.
The SB 5 referendum will be among the most watched elections this fall, so PolitiFact Ohio is committed to helping voters parse through the onslaught of campaign messages before election day.
On its face, the statement is this commercial appeared flawed. For one, elected officials already were exempt from the state’s old collective bargaining law, which was passed in 1983 and replaced by SB 5. Secondly, lawmakers cannot raise or cut their own pay if they wanted to. They can only adjust the pay of future state representatives and senators.
We asked the organization that produced the commercial, We Are Ohio, to explain how the politicians who passed SB 5 exempted themselves from the law.
Melissa Fazekas, a spokeswoman for We Are Ohio, said the exemption can be traced to page 32 of the 304-page bill. A citation also appears on the screen during the ad narrator’s claim, along with a written message that says, "Senate Bill 5 payment provisions: Do Not Apply to Politicians."
Language on that page of the bill relates only to payment provisions within SB 5. The exemption -- for elected officials and certain other workers -- is from sections 124.14, 124.15 and 124.152 of Ohio Revised Code, all of which deal with a job classification plan the Ohio Department of Administrative Services sets for state workers.
The plan, which lists various job titles and responsibilities, is tied to a salary schedule in Ohio law that gives automatic pay increases to workers based on seniority. SB 5 eliminates those increases and awards pay increases based on performance.
But keep in mind, elected legislators already were exempted from that pay schedule.
The other half of the claim, that "politicians exploited a loophole," underscores the commercial’s overall message, that state lawmakers used trickery to avoid playing by the same rules they’re forcing public workers to play by.
But the exemption is hardly a loophole. Lawmakers already were exempt from existing laws relating to the job classification plan and collective bargaining. SB 5 alters those laws while keeping the exemptions for elected officials and others intact.
Legislators’ salaries are set in state law. The Ohio Constitution prohibits lawmakers from in-term pay raises or decreases.
Their current pay — a base salary of $60,584 with significant additional pay for leadership positions and certain committee assignments — was last adjusted in 2008, the final year in a series of increases that was part of a bill passed in 2000.
As for benefits, state lawmakers already pay health insurance costs and contribute toward their pension in line with SB 5’s provisions. Medical coverage rates and required pension fund contributions for lawmakers mirror those of unionized state workers. Therefore, they typically pay at least 15 percent of their medical insurance premiums and, if enrolled, must contribute 10 percent of their salary to the retirement system.
The claim in the ad does contain an element of truth -- legislators are exempted from several provisions of SB 5.
But the portion of the claim that they’ve exploited a loophole leaves out important details that would give a different impression. Those details include that lawmakers have long been exempt from Ohio’s collective bargaining law, that they already pay the same percentages for medical and pension benefits as SB 5 would require and that their wage is set by statute.
On the Truth-O-Meter, a statement that has an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression rates one way: Mostly False.
We Are Ohio, "Loophole," TV commercial, debuting Sept. 13, 2011.
Email correspondence with Melissa Fazekas, We Are Ohio spokeswoman, Sept. 16 and Sept. 21.
Ohio Senate Bill 5.
Ohio Department of Administrative Services, pay range booklet
The Plain Dealer, "Ohio Senate staffers get pay raises while others cope with state budget cuts," Sept. 8, 2011
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