San Diego Mayor's First Budget Emphasizes Neighborhood Services, Public Safety
April 16, 2013 12:52 p.m.
Todd Gloria, San Diego City Council President, District 3
Kevin Faulconer, San Diego City Councilman, District 2
CAVANAUGH: San Diego mayor Bob Filner calls his first city budget traditional. Transitional. A reference to moving from the budget he inherited from mayor Sanders to the new fiscal budget he brings to the city. The new priorities includes an emphasis on libraries, a homeless shelter, and public safety. The San Diego City Council will get the budget today, start debate, and likely propose changes in the weeks to come. Two council members join me now to talk about mayor Filner's budget. Todd Gloria, welcome.
GLORIA: Thanks for having me on.
CAVANAUGH: And City Council member, Kevin Faulconer.
FAULCONER: Good afternoon.
CAVANAUGH: Before we get to the budget discussion, let me ask just a couple of questions about San Diego's reaction to the bombings in Boston. Councilman Gloria, what security threat is unfolding in another part of the country, what do San Diego City leaders start to do?
GLORIA: We always confer with our public safety professionals and ensure we're where we ought to be in terms of preparedness. I think is this of course a reminder. We have our own large civic event, and we'll be redoubling our efforts to make sure we're prepared for any eventuality.
CAVANAUGH: Kevin Faulconer, you've been on the council since 2006. How would you say our city's disaster preparedness has evolved in the time you've been a City Council member?
FAULCONER: I think it's gotten dramatically better. Lessons learned certainly during the wildfires and particularly centered around communications. I think we're very fortunate that we have the type of collaboration we have, the police being able to talk to the fire department, etc, but also on a regional basis, communication with the sheriff's department and others. We have had to go through some pretty significant disasters. But I think we're -- from an emergency standpoint, we spend a lot of time on after-action, looking at what worked during those disasters, how can we be better prepared. And as Todd just mentioned, we have a lot of large events that occur in the City of San Diego. The rock and roll marathon will be coming up again. And not only from the city a sustain, but from those events, our heart goes out to everybody in Boston, and we'll be looking at the steps we need to be taking here in San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: And as I mentioned in the introduction, the San Diego City Council, you all observed a moment of silence today to remember the victims of the Boston marathon bombings. Todd Gloria, this is a $2.75 billion spending plan for the city, it includes spending increases and resolves a $40 million budget shortfall. Can you give us your overview?
GLORIA: Sure. We're still getting our arms wrapped around the mayor's proposal. Essentially he's dealing with a $39 million budget deficit. He's addressing it by using about $34 million worth of 1-time resources, and about $5 million for ongoing resources. That's of course a significant criticism of the proposal, although there's not a lot to work with in terms of options. I think other highlights, roughly $15 million in terms of expenditure reductions or cuts and $15 million in new programattic additions. And that's interesting when you're in a budget situation to look at increases and reductions that amount to about the same thing. The two takeaways that I have, there probably needs to be a greater consideration of how we can balance this budget through efficiencies, managed competition, alternative work schedules, and other reforms. And I think that the budget certainly underscores the need for a multiyear labor agreement with our workers so we can achieve some pension savings that are necessary to balance the budget.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just to clarify, didn't former mayor Jerry Sanders project a surplus?
GLORIA: Well, his surplus when he projected it left out a couple of things that were -- I think gives him some consideration for the fact they weren't fully known at the time, but there was a good sense these would not break our way. An increase in our pension bill due to the passage of Proposition B, and some additional sort of hits from the state with the regard to the dissolution of redevelopment. Those outcomes weren't particularly clear when mayor Sanders made thatiment sta. Now we're dealing with the $39 million shortfall.
CAVANAUGH: Kevin Faulconer, you released a statement that's pretty critical of the mayor's first budget. You say it repeats the mistakes of the past. How so?
FAULCONER: Well, I am critical of it, and I think it was very disappointing to see some of the items that were contained. Two that really jump out at me is the fact that we're going to be delaying another infrastructure bond and moving backwards in terms of street repair. When we talk about lessons of the past, this council in a bipartisan fashion has made infrastructure a priority. And we said we need to keep investoring in that. We cannot raid from infrastructure dollars or not do infrastructure funding on a timely basis for particularly our roads. If we don't do that, we're going to slide backward. And the condition of our roads, I think everybody who's listening out there today knows need a lot of help. This council has worked together to keep that pressure on to do that. This budget that came out skips, delays a whole year moving forward on that. And that in my opinion is the wrong way to go. And as Todd just managed, the issue of managed competition is something I feel very, very strongly about. Voters passed managed competition overwhelmingly several years ago, which was the ability of the private sector to come in and compete for city services, and save taxpayers millions of dollars. The mayor has put that on hold. I think that's the wrong approach. And it's wrong for our budget and neighborhoods. If we identify, and as we identify, those savings, those are savings that we can plow right back into our rec centers, police, fire, other things that our general fund covers. Those were my two biggest disappointments. It's going to be up to the council now to take a look at that. And I venture to say you'll see some significant changes.
CAVANAUGH: Let me get both of your takes on this, starting with you, Todd Gloria. Do you agree with the mayor's proposal to use a $21 million wildfire lawsuit settlement with SDG&E to close part of that budget deficit that we've been talking about?
GLORIA: Well, it's not my preferred approach. We want to take ongoing extenses and match them with ongoing revenue sources. That said, the previous mayor used 1-time funds with some frequency to help balance the budget. We may need to do some of that. But it shouldn't be our main approach. We have to find other ongoing revenues or other ongoing efficiencies and reforms to balance it. That's the better way to do if to make sure we never go back to where we were in the middle of the last decade where all the unfortunate things that were associated with Enron by the sea, etc., etc.
CAVANAUGH: And the $21 million lawsuit settlement, should that go to close the deficit?
FAULCONER: It should did exactly where it is, which is in the public liability fund. The city has underfunded that. And we've made a lot of progress together as a council working toward funding our reserves. And the reason you have reserves and this insurance policy, the reason we've set a target for our public liability is we have numerous losses that are outstanding, some big-ticket, and the city was not funding that reserve at all. And in fact we're under what we should be doing. We have over $100 million in outstanding claims against the city right now. The reason we have those savings accounts is because we may need them.
CAVANAUGH: One of the cuts proposed in the budget is the city attorney's office. The mayor has been publicly feuding with the city attorney. Do you consider that a bit of payback?
GLORIA: I won't conjecture on what the mayor's opinions were. It's a curious approach. But I don't think it'll be adopted by the council. The argument that will be made later in council is that the city attorney's budget has grown in recent years. But that's a reflection of the council's desire to get off the use of outside council, private attorneys that come at a much higher expense to taxpayers. And it remains to be seen to me that going a different route will do anything whatsoever. I think every department needs to be asked to tighten their belt and provide some help and relief so we can maintain service levels.
CAVANAUGH: Councilman Faulconer?
FAULCONER: No, I'll let the mayor talk about his own motivations. But I think it was suspicious how that came out. We're going to look at every department, including the city attorney's office to look at how we're delivering the services, can we be streamlining. But that's why we should be doing managed competition. We have the ability to save literally tens of millions of dollars if we moved through that.
CAVANAUGH: As coauthor of Proposition B, is it surprising or daunting to you in some way to realize that it is costing the city so much to implement?
FAULCONER: We knew there would be some upfront short-term costs. But we talked about that going through the political process of the campaign. The bottom line was that there was no mistaking that fully implementing Proposition B will save this city over a billion dollars in the long run. Those are savings that we can certainly use. And as we get into more of a 401K system, we get out of the year to year system of pension costs that every single year, it's going to work. So it's something I'm anxious to make sure that the city fully implements. If you look at the budget that just came out from the mayor's office, the mayor is adding about $20 million in new spending irregardless of the deficit that we're facing.
CAVANAUGH: And Todd Gloria, you opposed Proposition B. Is this transition money, money the city you think needed to spend?
GLORIA: No. The savings does not come from going to a 401K. It comes from a long-term labor agreement. And I would argue with my great friend and colleague from City Council district 2 that I don't think the voters who voted for this had any understanding that this would increase our pension at least in the short-term. And the short-term has a context. It's the context of coming out of the worst economy in 70 years and a place where we have budget deficits at least in the short-term. So to add to that and put the specter of potential service cuts on the table just doesn't help. And while I think the council will do its best to prevent reductions, I'd rather be dealing with a $20 million deficit rather than a $40 million deficit.
CAVANAUGH: You were talking about the idea of negotiating with city employees. Mayor Filner says the ability to balance the budget and make crucial infrastructure repairs, to move that forward depends on achieving a 4-year pensionable pay freeze with city employees. Will you support the mayor working out a 5-year deal?
GLORIA: Well, I have supported the mayor in doing that. I do believe that a long-term agreement with our employees of about five years in length provides the budget we don't have currently with our year to year approach. There's a tradeoff with that. The employees want to see some composition increase. We can make that nonpensionable so it's less expensive to the city, but it does provide relief. To means our actual pension bill will go down in the long-term but also more rapidly in the short-term and help offset the costs of prop B. And I think that's a wise move, it deserves support, and it's a budget solution that is better than the 1-time solutions currently in the proposal.
CAVANAUGH: And councilman Faulconer, do you oppose the idea of a 5-year deal?
FAULCONER: At what cost? You certainly don't want to lock in a variety of things that you're going to be paying for that you won't have those dollars to use in other places. This council has been very judicious over the last few year, and we have had to make some tough decisions. We have had to make some cuts year at City Hall. Nobody wants to do that. We have great employees that work for the City of San Diego. And we want them -- we want a deal that's fair, that work not only for employees but also that works for the taxpayers, ensuring that we're getting back to not only those services but competition that we can still in an ongoing fashion.
CAVANAUGH: I want to ask both of you, because of an opinion by state legal council, it was decided mayor Filner did not actually have the authority to veto port commission appointees the way it was originally thought. So those originally appointees were sworn in on Monday. Todd Gloria, what's your takeaway from this whole flap over the port commissioners? Do you think it's good that the council now has guidelines for board appointments?
GLORIA: I think it is. While I disagree with the veto and was glad to ultimately be proven right, the vision for the port that we adopted with the mayor clarifying some of the procedures that were unclear before, those were good things. But the best thing is that we are fully represented at the port now. We have three commissioners there now advocating on behalf of the citizens of San Diego. That's a good thing. And with regard to the pros that got us there, as the councils Mr., it's my responsibility to stand up and make sure we have a strong council. That's what this was about, retaining that authority for the council. And I appreciated the help of our state legislative council getting that done.
CAVANAUGH: Kevin Faulconer, was it a waste of time or is it good to have guidelines?
FAULCONER: Well, it was a waste of time that we didn't have our commissioners seated. We have two excellent individuals who are unparalleled. And to see them sworn in finally just yesterday is a great thing for our city. The mayor's veto was unnecessary, divisive, but the council did support these nominees. We need them at the port. You want to talk about jobs and our economy, we want to make sure that San Diego is represented there among all the other commissioners. So this is something that we've all felt very, very strongly about. And to see them get sworn in was good news for San Diego.
CAVANAUGH: And councilman, take us through briefly what happens now. The City Council has the budget presented to it formally today. Where do we go from here?
GLORIA: At that point, we'll accept it, we'll start going through the process of really looking at it very, very deeply. We'll have a budget review committee that'll meet in May. I encourage the public to participate. And we'll look at it department by department and make the amendments to deliver a balanced on-time budget to the people of San Diego before June 30th.
CAVANAUGH: That sounds great.