$4.4 billion headache solved. How? Chronicle has no explanation

$4.4 billion headache solved. How? Chronicle has no explanation

innumeracyMembers of the media's aversion to math — especially to explaining how numbers work when explaining spending decisions in public policy — is hard to miss. For years, few stories by California journalists on pensions and retirement benefits really dug into the numbers. So when the pension tsunami began to hit a few years ago, many Californians were more surprised than they should have been.

Today's San Francisco Chronicle offers a story that's a classic example of not just journalistic innumeracy but avoidance.

“San Francisco voters will be asked next month to approve a measure that seeks to eliminate a projected $4.4 billion shortfall in the city's retiree health care fund over the coming decades, all without increasing employee or taxpayer contributions.

“That lack of cost has resulted in widespread support from both labor and business groups for Proposition A, which was authored by Supervisor Mark Farrell, was placed on the ballot by the entire Board of Supervisors and is supported by Mayor Ed Lee.”

So what is this miracle solution that makes a $4.4 billion headache disappear “without increasing employee or taxpayer contributions”?

Reporter Marisa Lagos never explains beyond this:

“Just one city union opposes the measure, which would tackle the deficit by prohibiting the city from raiding a health care fund established in 2011. Prop. A effectively changes retiree health care from a pay-as-you-go model to a fully funded account by 2045.”

What San Francisco's elected leaders have come up with may in fact be a good long-term solution to a big problem. But who knows what the solution is? One can't tell from the Chronicle's account.

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