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Roundtable: Pension Initiative, Wings on Navy Pier, Vets Facing Difficulties

November 11, 2011 2:03 p.m.

The city pension reform initiative has qualified for the ballot; the Midway Museum has proposed what they're calling an iconic sculpture and park for Navy Pier; and returning military face economic hurdles as veterans.

Related Story: Roundtable: Pension Initiative, Wings on Navy Pier, Vets Facing Difficulties

Transcript:

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

SAUER: A petition drive by backers of pension reform for city workers bore fruit this week. And the issue is headed for June's ballot. Would it solve San Diego's long-term financial problems? And are sails or wings the size of a skyscraper find a home at the end of Navy pier? This is KPBS Midday Edition Roundtable. I'm Mark Sauer, it's Friday, November 11th, adventures' day. Welcome to the Roundtable. Our subjects today, San Diego voters will decide on pension reform. The midway carrier museum offers a bold plan for a park and iconic sculpture, and President Obama has a plan to help jobless veterans.

Now, let me welcome my Roundtable guests today. Scott Lewis, CEO of VoiceofSanDiego.org. Welcome.

LEWIS: Thank you.

SAUER: Roger Showley, my old friend, growth and development writer for the Union Tribune good to see you.

SHOWLEY: Glad to be here

SAUER: And Tony Perry, our old pal from the LA Times. The bureau chief in San Diego. Good to see you

PERRY: Good to be here

SAUER: And we'd like to hear from you, our listeners. Give us a call with your questions and comments for the Roundtable panel. That's 1-888-895-5727. Or give us a tweet at KPBS Midday Edition.

Among those running for mayor, next year is councilman Carl DeMaio, the center piece of his campaign is a ballot initiative that if successful would mean a dramatic change in retirement benefits for the City of San Diego's employees upon Scott, who besides DeMaio is behind this?

LEWIS: It's a coalition of the mayor, Carl DeMaio, councilman Kevin Faulconer factor in, the taxpayers' association, and the conservative Lincoln chub. One thing we need to clear up, it's not a change to current employees' benefits. It would be a change to future employees' benefits. The future employees, when they get hired would no longer be guaranteed a pension. They would have a 401K type plan, and they may have Social Security. I think it's just important to clear that up. There is an element of the measure that would affect current employee, and it would actually have the most savings of the ballot measure, and that's a proposal to cap the city's employees' pensionable pay, the pay that can be applied to their pension, for five years going forward. The problem is that you can't freeze pay for five years without employees agreeing. So what you can do is expose it every year. And what the ballot measure says is you, City Council, will impose this every year unless 2/3 of your body votes not to impose it, and you need 2/3 to do that. And I think that's an important distinction for the entire initiative.

SAUER: And the savings are going to be Long term?

LEWIS: That savings for the current employees if they cap pensions for five-year, that would have an immediate effect because the pension system itself assumes pensionable pay will rise over the next five years. And the switch to a 401K and much less dramatic. Future employees have already been given much less in pensions than their predecessors. Future employees have a much smaller pension guaranteed to them. What this basically does is take that away finally, and since they also don't have Social Security it'll probably move them into Social Security. In essence, what wee doing is taking the risk. The pension system and offering it to the federal government in the form of Social Security. Of

SHOWLEY: Why are you saying that they're moving to Social Security? There's no assurance that would happen or the city could afford it.

LEWIS: No, but I think the mayor and others are assuming that's what the switch will be. There's a 9.2% contribution that the city will make to either a 401K or a combination of a 401K and Social Security. And I think most of the planners behind it are planning on the city employees, the future employeeses, opting into Social Security, which would be 6.2% of that offered for their retirement.

SHOWLEY: Before, during or after the vote, the laborer unions are already warming up the lawyers in the bullpen. They've done well so far. They've won some, lost some. Is that where this thing is headed?

LEWIS: The major legal concern right now is this point that if they're going to talk about benefits and employee compensation, they're required by the State of California to meet and confer with those employees. And the way that the city is getting around it is novel right now. They're saying actually we're not proposing this. Mayor Sanders as a private citizen is proposing this, and this far it's not a meet and confer issue. I think those things will get litigated. But they've written it in such I way that the freeze isn't really a freeze. It's got some loopholes, so it might not be litigation prone. And then the switch to a 401K with the option of Social Security is something that the state Social Security administrator told me is probably going to work out

PERRY:

SAUER: Where do you stand on the pension initiative? Give us a call. It's 1-888-895-5727. So Roger, what do you think? You've certainly been in the industry a long time and followed these issues for a long, long time.

SHOWLEY: I think one of the issues that occurs to me, in the private sector, the pensions are dying everywhere, including in our company and many others. Why should the city employees be any different from private sector in getting of guaranteed pensions versus a 401K? Two things to remember, private citizens do have guaranteed Social Security. And the city opted out of Social Security decades ago. And the future employees' benefits, again, are already a guaranteed pension that's much reduced from the past ones causing all the problems right now. So the idea that they need to be taken away -- taking away even more is based on the idea that we can't trust the future city leaders not to boost the pension benefits again and get us into the same mess. It's to eliminate that risk. When you ask, why can't they be any different? They already are put into a system right now, future employees that's not much different than what normal private sector workers are expecting. It's just that it's guaranteed by the city instead of Social Security.

SHOWLEY: Well, crunch the numbers. Does this, if passed, get the city out of hock in the near term? Or do we have to go through another decade of cutting and trimming and worrying?

LEWIS: Again, I think a lot of people are touting this, are the chairman of the Republican party put out a thing, that solves it for now and going forward. Yet you talk to Carl DeMaio and he's still got another bunch of these lined up for future reform efforts. And I think the reason is that we're going to pass this, probably going to pass this, and then you're going to wake up and still have a massive pension burden. And that's because it doesn't address current employees. Their pensions were good, and then they went and got better, then they got better, and now future employees are being eliminated entirely. The real savings is that freeze. But again, the freeze is not guaranteed. It's more of a mandate to the City Council that you should freeze for the next five years, these salaries.

SHOWLEY: Is the idea that some of the boosts that the current employees got, manager one, manager two, that Mike Aguirre blazed away on for four years, that's a dead issue, those things are in there, and there's no chipping away so we've got to worry about the future employees?

LEWIS: There are efforts under way in various city, Rhode Island and others, that are talking about dressing current employee benefits. But the establishment from Carl DeMaio to the taxpayers to the mayor in the conservatives here, has assumeded those are untouchable, which is convenient because it protects current employees and doesn't -- and many, in fact, including the mayor himself enjoys a pension. It's convenient for all of them to throw up their happeneds and say that current employees' pension benefits are untouchable. And that's based on California constitutional law. And I think one of the points a lot of people say, well, if the governor is gonna go hard on pensions for future employees, why doesn't he try to change the constitution of California to maybe address and provide some intergenerational equity and address this current employee problem? The only route anybody said could even possibly have an effect on current employees' pension system bankruptcy, and nobody's willing to touch that.

SAUER: Not all employees are covered by this, right?

LEWIS: No. And the group that is spared is the police officers. And I think the argument is there is recruitment, and retention is so difficult already with police that no other agencies are showing a tendency to go to a defined contribution, a no-guaranteed pension that that would be problematic. But Carl DeMaio has said, if this passes, it gives him prix dom to pursue other reforms, and the cops would eventually move over to. This

SAUER: We're going to take a call from linel. You're on with the Roundtable. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello. My name is lannel. How you doing? Anyway, I'm just concerned that the workers are always -- it's like people begrudge other people what they have. Instead of, like, it's this paradigm you have a new dress, I don't have one, let's take yours away from you. Why not insure that everyone has a new dress and the analogy is everyone has a pension, everyone has a secure retirement. Why is there a problem withing equity and having overarching equity so that everyone has it? Thanks a lot. Brian Bilbray

SAUER: Thank you. Is this a race to the bottom

LEWIS: That's exactly what laborer unions say, and others say, you can begrudge public employees pension, but if they lose their pensions, nobody will have pension, and there'll be no competitive marketplace that rises the the retirement security and provides an upward --

SHOWLEY: I think the horse is out of that barn and gone over several times. When the new funk and wag nels coming out, and you look at pension, it will say retirement benefits for public employees not available to the private sector. I hear what the caller is saying that if it dies in the public sector, it will be EVEN DEADER in the private sector. But I think it's already dead in the private sector.

LEWIS: Pensions were good, then they got better and better again, then the city made a deal that stopped funding them. It's one thing to promise pensions, but there's nothing progressive simply saying about promising benefits and then not funding them.

SAUER: Was that a kick the can down the road so we can have negotiations now on a current contract?

SHOWLEY: It was a bet on a rising stock market forever and ever and ever

SAUER: Always going to go up

LEWIS: So pensions are fine as long as there's money for them. And right now, as the city is falling apart with bad streets, rec centers that are never open, and palm trees that can't get trimmed, this burden of pensions has choked everything else

SAUER: Let's go to another caller. Marlin is in Chula Vista.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, good morning. My comment is similar to the previous caller. This is just another example of where the middle class in America has just been wiped away. And if politicians and bureaucrats and all these people that sit up on talk every day about the middle class, they will not understand until they are taken out of office

SAUER: Okay, thanks very much. Do you agree with that?

LEWIS: I think, look, everybody. S a secure pension. But somebody has to pay for it. It's become such a large burden on the city's budget from $40 million payment years ago to more than $200 million this year. That money has to come from somewhere. Anybody who wants to provide these pensions, it's incumbent on them to provide an analysis of how we're going to pay for them.

SHOWLEY: The pensions are not the only thing driving the city into the poor house. Our own attitudes toward public funding, and you and I have discussed this, Scott, it's not refight Prop D. But Prop D, for example, and now we have at least one mayoral candidate, Bob Filner, telling us that he's against the pension reduction.

LEWIS: But he won't even venture an offer to raise taxes. He's not even willing to touch that.

SHOWLEY: That's true. But we're a year away. And I wouldn't count him out. We do have this tendency in San Diego to define the problem and have only certain options, a very narrow view of the description of what we have.

>> And you think the progressive would provide more options for you but he's not.

SHOWLEY: So far.

PERRY: I think some of this has to do with jealousy by the public, and public employees, if we in the private sector feel like they're getting a good deal, and we're not, they're insured of employment, we're not. So there is a sort of class war fare in the work force. Then the other issue is San Diego, is cheap as eave said many times, and have should we spend a third of the budget on former employees when we have these needs now?

SAUER: And they don't get Social Security at this point. That's up in the air.

SHOWLEY: That was their choice in the early 1980s. They were asked and said no way.

LEWIS: In exchange for guaranteed healthcare for the rest of their lives. And I think that's the situation they're in right now. There's going to be 9.2% of the city's payroll set aside for some sort of retirement. If they want to take 6.2% of that and put it into Social Security, I think the city is going to welcome that.

SHOWLEY: What's your feeling on Carl DeMaio? He is the pension hawk. He is the one -- does he ride this into the mayor's office? Or is he the newt GAIK rich, brings an idea that's interesting but really isn't interesting himself?

LEWIS: I don't know if he has enough to get over the 50% hump in the final election. Does he have the -- he wouldn't talk to the union group the other day. Is he willing to actually talk to people who don't like him and try to win them over? There was a previous polarizing politician named Mike Aguirre who was and who did, and then later got kicked out

MAUREEN SAUER: All right, we're going to wrap it right there, because we get into Mike Aguirre, we'll be here all day. Thank you very much. Coming up, the midway museum wants to develop a park with a giant sculpture on Navy pier, and President Obama wants to help homeless veterans.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: My guests today are Scott Lewis of VoiceofSanDiego.org, Roger Showley of the Union Tribune, Tony Perry of the LA Times. In a rather breathless press release this week, officials at the midway carrier museum berthed at Navy pier, said they had a bold new proposal to announce before the port commission. Roger, did that proposal live up to the hype?

SHOWLEY: It was breath taking. The commissioner said they hadn't seen anything like it in their lives, it was worth looking at. Although people -- well, we should describe what it is. It's a 500-foot sculpture at the Navy pier next to the Navy museum

SAUER: Next to a thousand foot aircraft.

SHOWLEY: Made of a steel structure as high as the highest building in San Diego and be lined with sheets of titanium. And it's so big -- it would not move around like a sail. So they have this huge foundation to build into the bay bed rock to keep it from falling over

SAUER: Wow. It's the aisle tower west, Sidney opera house, all wrapped into one, and you can't see past it if you're on the shore

PERRY: Right.

SHOWLEY:

PERRY: We Republican a poll on the Union Tribune, and I was struck by how polarized the community is. Almost exactly 50-50. 1,600 vote, half for half against. And some of the comments people had of it were just incredibly dismissive or proud.

SAUER: We'd like your comments. Give us a call. Numb null. It is rather polarizing. Nobody's embracing this?

PERRY: We should remember the aisle tower 100 years ago was a big polarizing element in Paris, and now they all love it. And the Sidney opera house was a big scandal for years, what an over-budget thing that was, and that's the greatest thing in Australia

SAUER: For years therapy complaints we department have a whole lot of public art in San Diego. Maybe this would make up for that in one fell swoop.

SHOWLEY: It's about icons. And I want to do a story next week about what are the role of icons in a city, what are they in San Diego, and do we want another one

SAUER: Ari in Rancho Bernardo, tell us what you think.

NEW SPEAKER: Having seen the pictures of the design, I believe that it's a monstrosity. It detracts totally from the city landscape, the view from across the water, and from the midway itself. In my opinion, whatever moneys are involved, and I understand it's not the public money, would be best put to improving harbor drive, putting foot bridges over it to the trolleys and stuff like that.

SAUER: Okay. All right. Thanks for not sugar coating that. How much money is involved 1234

SHOWLEY: The park cost is $68 million, and this sculpture is priced out at 35 million. But the thing is, this is not money that's available for anything. It's Danny Sanford, a philanthropist, a businessman was convinced to do this by maylanbern, one of our civic leaders, who is a big sailor. He's a big admirer of Sidney opera house, and for years he's been trying to get San Diego to have a symbol like that

PERRY: The timing instruct mean as really weird, Roger. The coastal commission turns down big Navy development because among other I think this, it would block views. Then boom! The midway group, good folks, love their museum, they come up with this idea for these enormous 500-foot pieces of sheet metal there. Which are going to block --

LEWIS: Titanium.

PERRY: Going to block views. I mean, do they read your newspaper?

SHOWLEY: Well, I -- the port did talk about that on Tuesday, and the argument -- and they talked to me the day before, and the argument was first of all, you can't see the bifrom harbor drive because there's a big Navy warehouse in the way right now. Secondary, if Tharp gone and you stood on the pier, you couldn't see the bay either because you're at sea level, really. So you can't see the bay. So we're not missing anything. And they're saying if we have this park, you'll have a better view of the bay, and the sculpture just is an amenity on top of it.

SAUER: Maybe like the big arch in St. Louis where you can go in know alevator to the top, get to the tip of the wing and you can see forever.

SHOWLEY: That's not part of the design.

SAUER: The thing I'm curious about, we've got a Convention Center expansion, the Chargers, and we want to pay for a stadium. Upon we got a half built library and they still got tons of money left to try and raise on this. Where's the dough coming for this?

SHOWLEY: Danny Sanford is the donor for the sculpture

SAUER: Only part of it, right?

SHOWLEY: Half of it. The other half will no doubt come from the midway itself, the port gets money from parking on the pier, so some of that come will -- will come to this, and they think veterans around the world will love this so much that they'll donate to it. So 33 million left to be raised, and intelligent, bern has not pledged any money from himself. But since it was his idea, I meanwhile he might cough it up at the end.

LEWIS: I think one thing to remember, the last time they were talking about a monstrosity in that area, they were talking about the midway museum.

SAUER: Right.

LEWIS: There were a lot of people who thought this old, ugly carrier would be sitting there. Now it's one of the most popular attractions in San Diego, correct? SDMFRMTHS right.

LEWIS: But if we're going to do something this big, it does feel like it could use, say, a competition or a little more, like oh, my gosh! Roll-out or options. And the other thing we have to realize and right now, they're trying to raise money for Balboa Park. Not just the plaza de Panama. But also rebuilding many of the problems in Balboa Park. For instance, the Arizona landfill. I don't know if you know this, but in the middle of Balboa Park, there's a gigantic landfill. They have pipes that pump the meth 18 out of it so it doesn't explode or something.

SHOWLEY: The bottom line you're pointing out is that if we want priorities as a public, we pay for them. If we're not going to pay for them, we have to depend on philanthropists to do what they want. And they pick out their little projects they want to do, and they may not be your project or mine, but that's what they want to do. If you privatize the public rel'll, this is what you get.

SAUER: Do you want to join us here? Let me jump in for a second. Please call 1-888-895-5727. Tony?

PERRY: Somebody was saying in your story or referring to this project as a vanity project for a rich man. Is it a vanity project for a rich man?

SHOWLEY: I don't want to say that.

PERRY: Does he have great artistic taste we haven't heard about?

SHOWLEY: It wasn't their taste at all. It was Malcolm leland, the sculpture, the one who did the fountain in civic plaza, are the cop course that looks like a bow wave. That's who the designer is. I think in the history of this sort of thing in world history, competitions have been very common. You would get a contest, people would submit their ideas. The watch watch monument was like that. The Sidney opera house was hike that. San Diego has had a number of those too. Of it's funny it sprung full-bore on the public without any preparation.

PERRY: So what are these meetings? These meeting publics?

SHOWLEY: They're to say, well, what do you think of it?

PERRY: And will they modify it depending on what the public says?

LEWIS: This is the problem in San Diego. They say this is our idea, and you're just a nay sayer if you disagree. And you don't dream big. And you don't like our idea. So that means you're -- what to they call them? The negative nay bobs of --

PERRY: Right.

LEWIS: The thing I think -- it just makes you worry, are these the priorities that we want in are these the -- is this really the best way that we can embrace --

SHOWLEY: We shouldn't just be stuck in your woe is me attitude in San Diego. We'd never go anywhere. If we had that feeling. In a way, if you have something deplorious like this, and it brings attention to San Diego, goes on every postcard, that's the idea they have in mind. -- it is going to rise above its local parochial views and the world will come around

PERRY: But what is glorious about a large piece of titanium?

LEWIS: It's for when there's a super bowl here, and the cameraman will zoom in on it, and it'll be the icon of San Diego

PERRY: Is it like a cathedral? Lift your highs to the heavens and make you think about God and man?

SAUER: They said the same thing about the aisle tower. A big chunk of steal? I don't know

PERRY: And it goes right on a post card.

LEWIS: Bon of the problems, we're saying we want to be like Sidney, like St. Louis with an icon. Why don't we do something that they want to be like? You know? That was the --

SAUER: We got sup shine and plenty of water.

LEWIS:

SHOWLEY: His argument about this was we want to be futuristics to have an image for San Diego that's more than what we have today. We have plenty of icons. His vision is something at the world level. So I don't think you could argue that if this thing were built, it literally would be a spectacular thing on the waterfront

SAUER: What about parking here?

SHOWLEY: The real issue here is not the sculpture. We shouldn't focus on the sculpture. It's this park midway is supposed to build or plan on the pier. And the park is on top of the parking lot that's there now. And that's really the issue for the coastal commission. Do we want to allow a park 20 feet in the air on top of the parking?

LEWIS: That's the big thing in San Diego right now. Build something and put grass on top of it. The Convention Center has that. The new plan for Balboa Park would have a parking lot with a park on top of it. Now this.

SAUER: Blake wants to join our conversation from San Diego. Go ahead

NEW SPEAKER: I just wanted to mention I'm in the building industry. I'm actually working on some projects on the waterfront. They are adding some under ground parking down there. But I do agree with the donor, that we really don't have any kind of real iconhere. And we could really use one, especially on the harbor front. I looked at an image of this titanium, and I agree it does look ugly, but when you go to other cities --

LEWIS: But it's something.

NEW SPEAKER: We really don't have the icon I think we should have on the waterfront. It's beautiful there

SAUER: Thanks very much. Brad now from Solana beach. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi there. Yeah, I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Bernam. He's got a life-long generational legacy. But I would like to see the money spent on a regional icon, including Mexico, specifically Tijuana. I think we could do something on one of the Coronado islands. And I think that could also serve a function, such as power generation for a laboratory for Scripps or something out there.

LEWIS: A big wind mill?

SAUER: That might enhance the area. I think the islands are in the jurisdiction of Mexico.

SHOWLEY: We all have our own idea, but wee not paying for it. He's paying for it. And if we dent like this, will he give the money to something else? We don't know. I want to remind people, being a student of San Diego history, 100 years ago there was a plan of a 200 feet statue of Cabrillo on the monument site. That was why the lighthouse was acquired. To build this stature

SAUER: Greg is joining us from Spring Valley.

NEW SPEAKER: Thanks for the show. I'm happy to hear that this discussion is going on. I'd just like to get on the record in saying that I've wish forward many, many years as a native San Diegan that we would get on the world map with some type of an iconic structure. We have such an absolutely beautiful canvas, and yet -- and a beautiful city, and yet we're not an international city. We're always Los Angeles's, you know, stepchild. And I don't know maylon bernam, but I believe that he's a great San Diegan. And I'm glad that at least he's getting the idea in the forefront.

SHOWLEY: Bringing up LA, they don't have an icon, what is the icon? The Hollywood sign?

LEWIS: They got the museum. The Getty.

SHOWLEY: The Disney museum.

LEWIS: Or is the symphony, yeah.

SHOWLEY: The symphony hall. But San Diego does have an icon. The California tower, almost 100 years ago, was built. That is my favorite in San Diego. UCSD library is an icon. The Coronado bridge itself is an icon. And the hotel dell is an icon. We have plenty of icon, if you talk about symbols of a city that are on a postcard. That's really the definition of what an icon is

SAUER: Chris from Pacific Beach. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Two brief questions maybe to echo what the previous comment was. We do have a number of icon, which I think that San Diegans are very proud of. And the great thing about San Diego's growth as opposed to a lot of regional places, LA or San Francisco, we have had an organic growth that occurred over a number of years, and to tax something onto that growth, especially to kind of sully our beautiful water front with this very imposing force, we would really dominate the waterfront and take away from the natural beauty that exists there already. And so I'm opposed to it really just from that perspective in terms of the tacked on nature. And additionally, I don't like the idea it's coming from a single source, that we don't have this community development. I'd like to see some other proposals to compete with it. I would like to see that private funding to be actually donated to the city rather than to the single agenda.

SHOWLEY: Well, are the first down side of that is then you get into a committee of people, art commissions and things that design something that looks like a camel.

LEWIS: Just said the Sidney opa rahouse, and the isle tower, they've all come from comissions.

SAUER: We've done such a good job getting an airport here. I don't think that would be a problem. Thanks for the discussion. Is this too much of a mill stare thing with the sculpture itself or are they talking about the heritage of military aviation? Is it wings is it a sail?

SHOWLEY: A sail, yeah.

SAUER: Who knows? You could have all sorts of compete designs, I suppose. Judge one of the designs they didn't share in the port, but somebody said it to me surreptitiously, was the winnings without the wings. It was just this frame of the sail or the wings. Some people I notice online said maybe I like that part. And you could actually see through it. I wouldn't be surprise first degree that becomes a problem to get approval that they would switch that sort of look. It would be a lot cheaper.

LEWIS: Maybe the wings could fly you to Coronado, maybe.

SHOWLEY: I said to bernam, why doesn't this become a turbine and make it do something rather than just sit there?

SAUER: Generate some power

SHOWLEY: And they said it would knock off people in the symphony hall.

PERRY: Have it make some music. String across it.

SAUER: It's interesting you bring that up. But it's more than just a park and all. It's supposed to be a home for the --

SHOWLEY: The San Diego symphony. They're looking for a place to go. So it's a perfect place for them. They were here before

LEWIS: For their summer concert

PERRY: Roger, do other large cities sit around like San Diego worrying about --

SHOWLEY: Yes they do.

PERRY: What are we going to be when we grow up?

SHOWLEY: Every city has the same discussion. We want to be like New York, we want to be like Paris. Look at the Washington monument. Talk about a symbol.

PERRY: It seems to me we've become something we were debating what we were going to become. Maybe I'm just not an architecture fan. I go to San Francisco and Seattle and I go wow! What beautiful buildings, those are terrific. Poor old San Diego is pretty shabby. Then I come back to San Diego, and somehow I forget about San Francisco and Seattle.

SAUER: We'll give Tony the last word on that, and he's going to have the first word on our next segment. We'll be back with a discussion of veterans and joblessness, and cuts at the Pentagon.

[[[NEW SEGMENT]]].

SAUER: This is the Roundtable on KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Mark Sauer. With me today are Scott Lewis of the voice of San Diego, Roger Showley of the San Diego Union Tribune, and Tony Perry of the LA Times. We'd love to have you join our conversation, our number is 1-888-895-5727. Taupy are, before we get into some of the serious issues facing jobless veterans and paying on cuts, let's talk a little bit about an event happening in San Diego bear of the the president is here, his wife is here, Michigan state is here. North Carolina. Kind of an unusual thing there. Although we did have some other entertainment in the bay. Elvis Presley was here in the 50s and sang on an aircraft carrier in the same setting

PERRY: And new a basketball game on the carrier Carl Vincent.

SAUER: A tough act to follow for Michigan state and North Carolina

PERRY: Going to be a good game, and the weather person is cooperating. Doesn't look like the rain is going to hit until mid-night or so. And it's the carrier classic. Maybe that'll be our icon. Basketball games on aircraft carriers

SAUER: If only we had the big wick with the the blimp shot

PERRY: I think so. And there's even talk that the president is going to shoot some at half-time with some pros.

SAUER: With magic Johnson and --

PERRY: Absolutely, come on down and -- it's going to be a joyous thing, and the marijuana activists are going to be picketing and hoping to catch his eye as he whisks in in his limo to see if he can't call the dogs off the federal prosecutors. But it looks like it's going to be a great game. The sailors are all jazzed on it. Of both teams are up. There was demand. It was the hottest ticket around, hard to get. The media has descended both for the game, for the carrier, and of course for the president of the United States. Hey! Where else? What other city has a carrier basketball game where the president of the United States arrives?

SHOWLEY: You get to go, Tony?

PERRY: Alas, ne. A very fine colleague from the sports staff, she's got it nailed down

SAUER: They're going to have fun with that. Then it's back to the serious business of jobless veterans and cuts thea the pentagon. Tell us what's going on. The president had a bill this week, did he not?

PERRY: This is veterans' day, that day that long ago was called armistice day in honor of November 11th, which was the end of World War I. Then it changed to veterans' day in the 1950s to honor both the World War II and Korea era veterans and we find ourselves celebrating veterans' day now with an unemployment problem in the nation as a whole and with that segment of the population who have served in the United States military. Numbers are floating, it's hard to nail them down. But about 12% of returning veterans are unemployed. The national stats are what? 9 and 1/2, 10%ful dent carry that to the bank because there's democratic factors you can put in there. Everybody seems to have a proposal for how to get jobs for these veterans. And they're all pretty basic. There's basic ways that have been used, and are being used and are being proposed, some just straight out ark affirmative action, if you will, preference for veterans. That's already widely used in public employment, employment. Money for training specifically for veterans, that's being used and propoez pod. And there are companies jumpingly in and saying, all right, we will create jobs for veterans. And then the government jumps in and says and we will give you tax breaks. All of these strategies have been used before, and the president and particularly his wife, Michelle, are mobilizing the resources to try to whittle down that appallingly high unemployment figure among everywheres. It is hard it seems to me to think of curing the unemployment problem for veterans separate from the unemployment problem involving the rest of the nation. And it seems hard to me to separate out the argument that the whole economy is really sick and then cure it for the veterans.

SAUER: Can you get bipartisan support on at least this segment of the --

PERRY: No. There's very little bipart suddenship because --

SHOWLEY: I got 95 to 0 yesterday

PERRY: It did, but there are differences between it and the house version and how it's going to be carried out. And who's going to carry it. It isn't out of the woods the why. A lot of talk, a lot of sponsors in and around November 11th. Fewer as we get closer to putting something like this. But there will be bills on the state and local federal level to help the veterans how much can it do? It'll do something. But with 900,000 unemployed veterans out there, it's Hart to see whittling that figure down quickly and in large measure

SAUER: 1-888-895-5727. The politics is yet to play occupant as you say, this is not only in the realm of joblessness in general, but it also is in the realm of cuts are if the Pentagon

PERRY: Exactly. Even as we talk about programs to help unemployed veterans, there is a super committee, they call it, brooding about how to cut the over all federal budget, and that includes the enormous 700 budget deficit a year Department of Defense budget, and one of the things they're looking at, and probably inevitably so, pensions and health benefits. And the stuff will really hit the fan when we start talk about cutting pensions either for new recruits or people who were already in. Or if we start talking about cutting health benefits, retirement benefits, for the families. If you drive up interstate 5, and there's that $500 million hospital being built at Camp Pendleton, what's itting built for in in large measure, to provide healthcare for retirees and their families. The if we start talking about cutting that, it's really going to hit the fan. So it's hard to separate out veterans for good treatment while the rest of everything else is getting cut and being slashed. So we're not out of the woods on this thing in terms of where veterans are going to land yet

SAUER: Do you think vets' benefits should be subject to cuts? Call us at 1-888-895-5727. Maybe a little more sympathy for the pensions of veterans than city workers as we were talking about earlier?

PERRY: I think there is. Although it's a kind of quickly, is it hot enough for you, kind of comment. There is a tendency to broad brush, a veteran is a veteran is a veteran. Well, maybe and maybe not. What we haven't tackled yet is the idea that maybe people who go forward, outside the wire, who do risk their lives -- he 7ed, he served honorably, does he deserve the same retirement and health benefits as a marine grunt or army infantry man? That's the military equivalent of do cops and firefighters deserve the same pension? A tough, tough decision.

LEWIS: If you serve four years, you're not guaranteed any pension

PERRY: That's true. Some health benefits throughout veterans' administration.

LEWIS: Right. And I think the issue at hand here, especially with unemployment, I had a great discussion

PERRY: Unless you're injuring, and that's a whole 'nother issue.

LEWIS: Right. But I had a great discussion with my wife. She was a nuclearengineer in the Navy. And I asked her, does the country owe veterans something? Don't we already guarantee them continued employment if they want to reenlist? And she made a fantastic -- you can reenlist, stay in the Navy or air force

PERRY: That has been true. But it's not going to be true. The Marine Corps is going to drop 15,000 in the next couple years.

LEWIS: She made the important point though too is that when you're recruited into the service, you give a blank check to the country. You say, send me wherever you want. Even if some cases, put my life at risk. And you do that in many cases because you've been told at the end of Tyou'll be free and have skills, and you'll be able to use the GI bill and become and catch up to your peers who may have been able to pursue a career while you were doing this. And I think that's why, and she made a persuasive point, that's why we need to care about their lot when they get out and try to leverage programs like what KPBS reportod this week. A great program in San Diego called rebot run by a guy named Maurice, I think. And it's a program to help people make that transition. Pause it's a transition that needs to be smooth, and one that employers need to look at with respect and pride.

PERRY: I don't think pension and health benefits are a great recruiting goal. They're mentioned, of course. If they look through the brochures.

LEWIS: I don't know.

PERRY: And note that with two wars under way, one of them a quite active war, recruitment is up, and there's no problem filling the ranks

SAUER: Plus the economy.

PERRY: Yeah, that also spurs. But there are multiple reasons. It's going to be tough to maintain what they have, just like public employees everywhere

LEWIS: But I know five very competent people, friends of ours who are staying in just because of the pension benefits 67 these are very important competent people. The kind of people that are running the Navy right now

PERRY: I've seen dozens. When they get to eight years -- then 12 years. And at 12 years, they got them for 20. Do we owe the same pension to someone who has never deployed, never gone outside the wire and spent 20 years never risking their life? Do we owe them the same we owe someone who has risked their life? I don't know. That's a hell of a debate that I don't want to be part of. But I think if we have to cut $450 billion, we're going to have to have that.

SAUER: Good question. Patricia from SDSU.

NEW SPEAKER: Hello, this is doctor Patricia rail's at SDSU. I'm the director of the troops to engineer service program in engineering. And I work with our student veterans majoring in engineering. And it's a good news story because our students who graduate with degrees in engineering are -- since I've been involved with this program, every single one of them has been placed in a job. And a good job

SAUER: Great, great.

NEW SPEAKER: So this is a good news story for veterans. Veterans are twice as likely to go into technical careers. They come from a technical background. If they're passionate about it, engineering is a great way for them to go. They have higher GPAs, finish at a higher rate than their nonveteran cohorts. They're more focused, mature. So I just wanted to share with you a good news story with respect to placement of veterans in wonderful jobs in our San Diego community. And very well supported by our local defense industries and other industries

PERRY: That does sound like a good program and it bears saying that there are veteran preferences throughout public employment, city, county, state, federal. And the federal government, for example, Department of Defense in particular, there are jobs you cannot apply for unless you're a veteran. So it isn't as if the society has done nothing to find second jobs for either retirees or people that have done a pitch or two. Have we done enough? Never. We haven't done enough for anybody.

SHOWLEY: This reminds me of the 1%, 99% argument going on as well. And students who graduated from college and can't get a job. You have the same thing with the military. They've done their time in the service or whatever, then they come out, and they can't get a job. So a few may be engineers. But we have this problem of people fitting into the economy in today's world. Veterans or otherwise.

PERRY: And I'd like to see a really hard-nosed study that says does military service overall get you ready for the private economy? It gets you ready maybe for another government job. But I'd like to see a really hard-nosed study that says, okay, does it really? And if it doesn't, what can we do to correct that?

SHOWLEY: Exactly

SAUER: Ben from Vista. Go ahead.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, sir, first of all, I want to say by saying happy veterans' day and happy birthday Maureen. We have less than 1% of our nation participating in armed forces, and such a large budget going into the Department of Defense, is it really necessary to cut the retiree benefits being that even fewer than that 1% will actually go to and make it to retirement? And everybody is making the comments, well, we live longer now, are so the perceptions are paid out longer. But the fraction of individuals that are actually making it that far to get those benefits is so few that it's almost like we're robbing Peter to pay Paul. What are we going to do with all of these veterans that have no benefits and that are living in hunger and don't have anywhere to go with those issues?

PERRY: The percentage of the federal budget of the Department of Defense that goes to pensions and healthcare is enormous. It's 2/3. It's growing. It's the same -- it's the city hall problem in San Diego writ large. And the problem is that the things we're going to need to fight the next wars are very, very expensive. Cyber defense, unmanned vehicles, special operations. These are expensive things if we're going to protect this nation in the next few decades. And something is going to have to give. These are terrible, terrible choices we're going to have to make

SAUER: We're still spending more than all other nations combined

PERRY: And doubled the budget in the last ten years

SAUER: And they're talking about the cuts here. NPR had a piece on this earlier coming out of World War II and Korea and Vietnam, the cuts in the cold war were on the realm of 30%. They're talking about 17% at this time, and a lot of people are howling bloody murder

LEWIS: I think that's important to remember. The caller's point, and im-- not going to put words in his mouth, but had something to do with, look, before we look at veterans' compensation, how about the sprawling military industrial complex? Look at how much of San Diego's economy is dependent on this layer after layer of layer of consultants and people working on projects that perhaps we may need to reconsider

PERRY: Washington post series on the growth of private companies and the intelligence industry was enormous.

LEWIS: Right.

SAUER: Yeah, and as you say, it's the same at the local issue, the stale level, and the national level. These pensions are just going out of control. So I don't know. These aren't easy questions, by any means

PERRY: Veterans and prisoners and

LEWIS: Veterans and prisoners and old people are the ones guaranteed healthcare in this country. And unfortunately, all those populations are growing, and I think the tension between those and those who aren't guaranteed healthcare is only going to rise

SHOWLEY: And you were talking earlier about fighting veterans versus nonfighting. Well, if you go to Iraq or Afghanistan, what's the percentage of all the military there that are actually in the trenches?

PERRY: On any given day, Roger very small. You can go to Iraq, go to Afghanistan, and as they say, never leave the wire. It's boring, it's arduous, you're away from your family, it's really difficult work. It's not going to kill you.

SAUER: Okay. We're going to have to leave it there I'm afraid. I want to thank my guests today on the mid-day Roundtable. Tony Perry of the LA Times, Roger Showley of the Union Tribune, and Scott Lewis of VoiceofSanDiego.org.