San Diego City Budget Passed, City Attorney Funding Maintained
June 11, 2013 12:28 p.m.
Todd Gloria, San Diego City Council President (District 3)
Kevin Faulconer, San Diego City Councilmember (District 2)
FUDGE: Our top story on Midday Edition, the San Diego budget. More cops, longer library hours, money for a year-round emergency home little shelter. Those are three of the things found in the budget passed yesterday by the San Diego City Council. Mayor Bob Filner needs to sign the thing, but that seems likely. He said the budget was an important turn think point for the city, and that the budget was the best in years. It passed on a 7-2 vote. We'll hear from one who voted with the majority, and one who voted against it. Todd Gloria, San Diego City Councilman representing district 3, president of the City Council. Thank you very much for joining us today.
GLORIA: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
FUDGE: Do you go with mayor Filner? Is this the best budget we have had in years?
GLORIA: Well, it's much better than the ones in recent history because we're not in a position of having to reduce services. When I got onto the council in 2008, we had to cut about $79 million out of a $1.2 billion general fund. This year we're looking at what services we could restore. So whether it was additional library hours, plans for police retention, work on sidewalk improvements. Those are the kinds of conversations we weren't having just four years ago that we are having now.
FUDGE: Give us your version of the spending plan. If you had to give us the highlights, what do you think they would be?
GLORIA: Well, is that you see a budget that is living within our fiscal constraints, but also slowly and financially responsibly restoring services. So you're going to see every branch library in the city increase its hours by four across the city. And when you just think a few years ago, we were talking about closing libraries, this is a massive sea change, and the second year in a row we've added more library hours.
FUDGE: And you're adding four?
GLORIA: Right. In every branch library in every neighborhood under this budget. You see a greater emphasis on infrastructure. This is the council being committed to rebuild our neighborhoods. It's taken us decades to get into this mess where our streets are busted, our sidewalks are falling apart, but we're putting some effort into changing that. And we're tackling the police retention issue. We often train officers here in San Diego, and they're lured away by other jurisdictions through signing bonuses, and things of that nature. We're trying to address that not in any extravagant way. These people are public servants Burk we need to keep them here because it costs so much to train them. And all of it being very physically restrained, we know that we are still in a precarious position. The state would claw back to the redevelopment, and the federal government with sequestration could put a hamper on some of our improvements. But wee dubbed a budget that is resilient. And that has always been my goal.
FUDGE: Let me dwell on the San Diego police department for just a bit. We hear that half of the police force will be eligible to retire in the next four hours. It sounds like you're trying to increase the number of recruits coming into the department.
GLORIA: That's exactly right. And it's actually an expansive plan. We have increased the number of seats in our academy so when people retire, there will be bodies there to backfill them. Through our labor agreement, there are modest increases proposed for our existing officers so they can kind of see a light at the end of the tunnel after ten years of taking reductions. And the police retention program, which we haven't figured out all of the details of it, but we're working closely with the police officer's association, with our city attorney, the mayor and council to make sure that those who are eligible to leave might choose to stay a bit longer. As we have new officers come online, we need to have more experienced officers there to mentor them.
FUDGE: Now, a year-round homeless shelter is part of the budget. Is that something new? Something we've never had before?
GLORIA: That is new. And thanks for bringing it up. The mayor and I share a commitment to trying to do everything we can to end homelessness in this community. And this budget is a downpayment in that direction. Last March, we opened the city's first year-round homeless services community. The figure that we set aside to fund that is a bit about short. All indicators are that that is true. But I think that the mayor is committed to trying to bring down those costs within what the council provided as a budget. And at the end of the day, we'll have more shelter beds in place so that people have somewhere to go. Why is this helpful? When people are in the shelter, they have the opportunity to access services that really break the cycle of homelessness. And it allows them to save up any kind of VA benefits, Social Security benefits, etc. It ends up being the first and last month of a security deposit on the home. This is complimented by other programs, like the check-in center for the homeless, and public restrooms for downtown San Diego. We know we have a public health issue in downtown. We have 1,000 homeless people. And this budget puts up money toward having those restrooms there for the general public.
FUDGE: And with the new library you might not want all the homeless going into the new library to use the restrooms there, so that is something that could be very useful. In real terms, is this year's budget an increase over the previous year?
GLORIA: It is, absolutely.
FUDGE: I wanted to ask you about a possibility of a veto from the mayor. He released a statement that indicated that he was very much a supporter of this budget. But does he have a line item veto?
GLORIA: He does. And he may utilize that. One of the things the council did yesterday which proposed the cut by the mayor to the city attorney's budget. I'm hopeful that the mayor will choose not to use his line item veto on that. I voted for the budget. We had a bipartisan vote on this budget of 7-2. And not every council member is thrilled with everything in that budget. But we came to a consensus. I hope that he respects the council's wisdom in making sure that we are fully represented. If that cut is allowed to stand, you will see a reduction in the neighborhood prosecution unit for the city attorney's office. We need prosecutor, we need people at the city who are putting drug dealers, prostitutes, other folks who are doing bad things in neighborhoods in jail.
FUDGE: The funding for the city attorney's office was a 5-4 vote, so that is something that the mayor may be able to successfully veto. In a separate act of council, you approved a new contract for city workers that increases pay for about 5% over three years. Can you comment on that?
GLORIA: Well, this is really historic. And this is I think one of the better things that we've done as a city. Our mayor put out a vision for having a 5-year deal, really owing to what the voters voted to do last year with Proposition B. He worked productively with the City Council and Kevin Faulconer to get this 5-year deal. Why does that matter to your listeners? It means certainty to the city budget. We know our labor cost for the next five years. And by locking in this spending plan or the compensation plan for the next five years, we reduced our pension bill or we believe we can reduce it by roughly $20 million or so. That's money that we can put back into neighborhood services. And the way the budget we adopted yesterday work, we put roughly half of it toward services, and the other to fiscal reserves.
FUDGE: We will soon hear from the councilman who opposed the billion. And I expect he will point out that this budget does rely on some 1-time revenues, meaning some programs cannot be sustained past this year. Also the council and the mayor did not vote for an infrastructure bond. Does that concern you?
GLORIA: It does. I absolutely understand where my two colleagues who voted against this budget come from. As I mentioned, there's something in this budget for everyone to like and something for everyone to hate. But the at end of the day, we have to find compromise and consensus. On those issues, the 1-time uses have been reduced the mayor's initial proposal had a higher level of 1-time uses. The council was able to work with the mayor to reduce that. And we should note that the mayor's predecessor also heavily used resources. With regard to the infrastructure bond, there is about a six month delay in drawing down those funds to continue the repairs to our roads and public facilities. I'm not particularly happy about that. But it's a 6-month delay. It's not a delay that goes on into eternity. And it gives us the time to work with our communities more closely, to identify the projects they want funded through a deferred capital bond and that should come forward probably in January.
FUDGE: Thank you very much.
GLORIA: My pleasure, Tom. Thank you.
FUDGE: Kevin Faulconer was opposed to the budget. Mr. Faulconer, welcome.
FAULCONER: Thanks for having me on.
FUDGE: Why did you feel this budget wasn't the one that San Diego needed?
FAULCONER: I think we really missed an opportunity on this budget. First and foremost, the mayor did not include any savings or management positions which allows the private sector to come in and compete for city services. That is a program that is working. We just started to scratch the surface of that in terms of savings for taxpayers down here. And for that to not be a part of this budget after we've proven it can work I think is a disservice to every neighborhood in the city. That was one primary reason. And secondly, another issue that I've been speaking out about is the mayor's decision not to move forward on the infrastructure bond for this year. That is going to skip about $80 million of planned infrastructure repairs. So I think it was a really missed opportunity in the budget. And we could have done better.
FUDGE: You have been quoted as saying this budget has no major restorations in services. Yet we've heard about expanded library hours and an increase in the number of police recruits.
FAULCONER: The mayor's budget has proposed to not include any library hours increased. The council through its work, I put it in my budget memorandum, talked about the need for increased libraries and also police recruitment and retention. That is a real issue, particularly on the police issue. And I'm going to move forward on that. You also look at neighborhood services. When we had to make some significant cuts in the city over the last several years, to not have any dollars in the proposal to go back and help with rec centers and other, it's a real missed opportunity. Yet the mayor is adding $30 million of spending on a lot of new bureaucrats here at City Hall.
FUDGE: What do you mean by adding bureaucrats?
FAULCONER: Well, the mayor has -- we still have an issue with a deficit in the first budget. In order to close that, things like take money out of reserves and the public liability fund. We said we're going to stop doing that. And one of the key things that we did yesterday was we passed a 5-year labor agreement, which I supported, which is going to have significant savings in pension reform. I wanted to see those dollars go back into all neighborhood services but not some of the programs which the mayor is talking about, like starting a think tank within City Hall to try to get the departments to talk to each other better.
FUDGE: There's been some criticism of that budget saying that it has 1-time revenues that we're not going to see next year. Was that what you were talking about a minute ago?
FAULCONER: It is. We have had to make some tough decisions. And the council has done this in a bipartisan fashion over the last couple years. And one of the things we said as the council is we have to have the physical discipline to not do things like take money out of reserves just to get by. And last year, the council in a bipartisan nature passed our budget principles and said we're not going to use money out of reserves for ongoing expenses. And the mayor's budget did just that by pulling money out of our public liability fund, which is our city's savings account for losses to get by this year. I just think that that's the wrong approach. We spent too much time on turning the city around. And we've done a remarkable job in doing that. And what I fear is that this incrementalism, well, let's just get through this year, that leads to mistakes, and those are part of the mistakes that got the city in trouble years ago.
FUDGE: What do you think about the restoration of funding to the office of city attorney Jan Goldsmith?
FAULCONER: The council made the right decision on restoring the city attorney's budget. We need a fully functioning independent city attorney's office. And when the mayor came out with his proposed cuts to the city attorney's office and yet did not propose any major cuts to any other city department, that's not the right approach. And we know all the back and forth that's been going on. But we have to have the city attorney's office -- particularly the neighborhood prosecution unit. We cannot let this distract us. The mayor needs to work closely with the city attorney. And that's what I'm going to ensure happens.
FUDGE: If this budget didn't do the job in your opinion, what do you think the council will have to face next year?
FAULCONER: Well, as we look at next year, we have to make sure that we're moving forward on funding those items and the priorities that taxpayers in our neighborhoods expect. We cannot skip infrastructure bonds. We have to leave money in our city reserves. We have to get serious about police recension. We have great men and women that work for our police department, but they're getting recruited by other cities, and we cannot afford to let that happen. We've really set the tone in terms of physical discipline in the city over the last several years. As you remember, a lot of the pension scandals, underfunding, a variety of budget shenanigans. We mustn't allow the city to go back to those days.
FUDGE: Kevin Faulconer is a Republican and he was one of two votes opposed to the budget approved by the City Council yesterday. Thanks very much for joining us.
FAULCONER: My pleasure.