Now that Ohio's term-limited, lame duck Gov. John R. Kasich only talks to national media, who have fallen in love with him for sounding like a Democrat when he defends expanded Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, even though he's as rightie a Republican as they come, his declaration that state pension programs are "rock solid" bears a deeper dive now that some reporters are finally coming to understand how bad things are and will be for millions of active and retired public workers.
Kasich doesn't like answering questions from state and local media, as his failure to hold any press conferences in Ohio for years attests to. Making news on his terms is basic Kasich strategy, honed over decades of crafting his performance politician aura that avoids topics he's fatally flawed on, including but not limited to taxes, women's issues, budgets, healthcare, jobs and many more.
Readers of Spinelli on Assignment will recall how citizen John Kasich, before he ran for governor, helped sell a bag of bad investments to Ohio pension funds while working as a Wall Street banker for Lehman Brothers before the storied investment house went bankrupt, initiating the meltdown on Wall Street that lead to the Great Recession and Ohio pension funds taking huge losses for the package "rainmaker" Kasich helped sell.
The Dayton Daily News reported Friday that the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System (OPERS), the largest of the state's five pension plans, is considering options that will probably impact all current and future retirees. Included in this discussion is an attempt to connect the cost of living allowance to inflation, then capping it and delaying the onset of the COLA for new retirees.
"OPERS is the latest of the five public pensions systems in Ohio to consider benefit cuts," DDN reporter Laura Bishoff wrote, adding that the State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio in April voted to indefinitely suspend the COLA for retired teachers. "Trustees said they weren’t certain that the cut would be enough to shore up the finances of the $72-billion fund," Bishoff wrote.
According to DDN's report, Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund is expected to hire a consultant to help restructure its health care benefits. The fund "announced in May it would switch in January 2019 to issuing stipends to each retiree, who can then use the money to purchase coverage. School Employees Retirement System, which covers janitors, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, is taking steps to link its cost of living allowance to inflation, cap it at 2.5 percent, and delay its onset for new retirees."Next year's elections for governor and legislative seats in Ohio are stacking up to be more important for Buckeye Staters than the next presidential election in 2020. If Republicans continue to hold the governor's office and the party's stranglehold majority control in the legislature, Ohio can expect to suffer the same kind of Kasich-supported programs and policies through another decade or more that have hobbled the state over the last two decades.
Dems' Golden Issue To Campaign On
As Democratic candidates running for governor tout their strengths and what they will do if elected, some wonder when they will seize on the crisis now blooming and use it to their advantage, since it cuts across the grain of working families who don't want to be shortchanged after working all their lives for a decent retirement that offers healthcare benefits if funds above and beyond actual pension payments are available. As it is, Democratic fortunes at winning are long, given Ohio's terribly gerrymandered districts and the sound thumping Donald Trump delivered to Hillary Clinton by last year.
In contrast to Kasich's claim while running his losing campaign for president last year that Ohio's pension systems were "rock solid," the reality Plunderbund has reported on is alive and well. It should be added to the long list of reforms Democrats will make if common fiscal sense returns as a factor Ohio voters will use when they go to vote next year to keep 1.9 million members, beneficiaries and retirees, the cumulative total for all five funds, from having their golden years turn into their pyrite or fool's gold years.
In their first Democratic debate held recently in struggling eastern Ohio, the four declared candidates so far—former congressman Betty Sutton, former state representative Connie Pillich, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley and State Sen. Joe Schiavoni—talked about many things, but not about Ohio's looming pension system crisis.
Gov. Kasich and his Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, the only GOP woman who has declared her candidacy for governor next year, the Republican-led state legislature and the other three declared GOP candidates—Attorney General Mike Dewine, Secretary of State Jon Husted and Congressman Jim Renacci—will have a hard time defending why it's good that cutbacks and shorting COLAs is what Republican control over the decades has produced for hard-working Ohioans.
The big issue that's earned little attention from Ohio media, especially the Big Eight legacy newspapers, is ripe for the picking for Democrats. The issue should also be ripe for Buckeye voters to understand and rally around if nearly two million beneficiaries of these funds are to have confidence in a livable future they've earned.