Friday, January 20, 2012

PolitiFact Flubs on Falk

Further to the quirkiness of PolitiFact, this rating of Kathleen Falk's statement that she saved Dane County about ten million dollars by agreeing to wage and benefit "reductions" is bizarre.

The union agreed to trade off higher co-pays and deductibles for protection against the need for higher pension reductions. That is trading one benefit for another.

The union also traded pay reductions for increased personal leave. Unless you think that the county gets nothing for a day of work from a unionized employee, then reducing work in return for reducing pay entails a cost. The same can be said for trading pay reduction for the ability to bank additional sick pay or a commitment to make no layoffs.

These may or may not have been good ideas but they were not "reductions" that "saved" ten million dollars. They were paid for at a real cost to taxpayers.

Perhaps a false rating would not be in order. There were reductions in wages and benefits even if they cost the taxpayers in other ways. In response to an earlier version of this post, my colleague at WILL, Tom Kamenick (calling out the boss ! - good for him) argues that we'd say that layoffs "saved" money. That thought had occurred to me and it doesn't surprise me that Tom would be smart and candid enough to point it out.

He has a point but a politician who had laid off employees would have to justify the cost associated with they layoffs and we wouldn't say that employees wages and benefits were "reduced."

Falk offered this in response to a claim that Walker's reform saved taxpayers money. She claimed that her "reductions" were an example of her doing the same thing through negotiation. As PolitiFact points out, she was trying to argue that she could do the same thing as Walker in a way that public employee unions would like.

But it wasn't the same thing. Walker reduced state expenditures by a lot in exchange for more modest service reductions. Falk seems to have given up as much as she gained. Maybe that's a good thing but, by failing to point out the ways in which the agreements cost the taxpayers money would seem to be, in PolitiFact's terms, either an accurate statement  that "leaves out important details or takes things out of context" ("half true") or  a statement that "contains some element of truth, but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression." (mostly false).


Tom said...

I disagree with you on the furloughs/personal leave issue. You say basically that it's not "saving" the taxpayers any money by cutting pay in return for less days of work, because the taxpayers are losing the value of the day's work.

But I'm sure you would agree that cutting the size of the government workforce by laying off employees would save the taxpayers money, even though the taxpayers would still be losing the value of that employee's work.

I agree with you that the shifting of money earlier to later isn't really savings (or at least not a 1-to-1 savings, because of the time value of money), but furloughs are real savings. I'd probably go with "mostly true" on this one.

Rick Esenberg said...

Yeah, I anticipated that argument. It's why I wouldn't call her statement "false." But there are two things. First, if I have cut someone's pay in exchange for less work, I have not "reduced" their pay - at least not by the full amount of the reduction. Second, there are costs to layoffs and when politician claim to have saved money by reducing the workforce, they generally have to justify those costs. What Ms. Falk has done here is to imply that she negotiated a "give back" and she didn't. What distingushes the Walker reforms is that the monetary savings were, to a great degree, achieved without a reduction in services. She at least implied that she had done the same thing. That - and the reasons we agree on - are why this required a mpre qualified rating.

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