Fact Check: (Still) Not-So-Instant Pension Savings - Voice of San Diego

City Council UNVEILING THE UNSEEN

Fact Check: (Still) Not-So-Instant Pension Savings

Mayor Kevin Faulconer and City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf claim in recent campaign mailers for Zapf and District 6 City Council candidate Chris Cate that pension reform has already saved taxpayers $1 billion.

MisleadingStatement: “As vice president of the San Diego County Taxpayers Association, Chris Cate was one of the leading drafters of Proposition B, the comprehensive pension reform that saved San Diego taxpayers nearly $1 billion,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said in a campaign mailer supported by an independent expenditure committee backed by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association.

Statement: “Lorie Zapf helped pass financial reforms, saving … $1,000,000,000. Over $1 billion saved so we can invest back into our neighborhoods,” a mailer for City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf’s campaign said.

Analysis: Pension reform supporters just can’t resist saying that Proposition B is saving a lot money.

They have said again and again that the city has new cash to fill potholes and build fire stations thanks to savings associated with Proposition B, which voters approved in 2012.

But it doesn’t.

The latest factual offenses appear in campaign mailers for District 6 City Council candidate Chris Cate and City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf, who is now vying for the District 2 seat. Both backed the pension overhaul.

Mailers distributed by Zapf’s campaign and a pro-Cate group backed by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association both imply the $1 billion in savings projected along with Prop. B has already arrived. (The savings comes from the measure’s push to freeze the portion of city workers’ salaries that factors into their pensions. That freeze was negotiated last summer.)

The mailers are leaving out an important fact: Past analyses found those savings would come over three decades, not immediately. The expected $1 billion in savings isn’t guaranteed, either. Other pension-related decisions affect whether and when they’ll come to pass.

For instance, a November pension board vote forced the city to divert some of the more immediate (and relatively meager) savings associated with Prop. B toward the pension bill rather than city services.

Many things can change in 30 years – and we won’t attempt to predict how they might – but one thing is certain: The city has yet to save anywhere close to $1 billion thanks to Prop. B.

John Hoy, a consultant working for the pro-Cate PAC that produced the mailer featuring Faulconer’s quote, said his group pulled an incorrect transcript of a Lincoln Club-backed video ad and mistakenly quoted the mayor saying the city is already enjoying Prop. B savings.  (Indeed, in the Lincoln Club’s ad, Faulconer says the measure saves nearly $1 billion. The Lincoln Club has since updated the transcript posted along with its ad for Cate.)

A Faulconer spokesman declined to comment.

Zapf campaign manager Sara Kamiab stood by the claim in Zapf’s mailer.

“As far as voters are concerned, when they overwhelmingly approved comprehensive pension reform in 2012, they saved the city $1 billion,” Kamiab said, adding that Zapf has worked to ensure the city gets the advertised savings.

Voters may expect those savings, but that doesn’t mean they’ve materialized yet. The city didn’t get an immediate $1 billion in the bank to spend on crumbling sidewalks or new police officers.

That makes the mailers’ claims misleading.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning. 

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