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Analysis: Sanders’ Budget Proposes Sweeping Cuts

Video unavailable. Read transcript below.

Video published December 4, 2009 | Download MP4 | View transcript

Above: Mayor Jerry Sanders proposed his plan for dealing with the looming $179 million budget deficit and the City Council began public hearings on the budget. The San Diego Union-Tribune Government Editor Ricky Young discusses the plan and City Council's response.

GLORIA PENNER (Host): This week, San Diego Cty Council began to wrestle with Mayor Jerry Sanders plan for dealing with the unprecedented $179 million budget deficit facing the city. We asked the mayor why he chose to make some cuts and not others. And here's what he told us.

JERRY SANDERS (San Diego Mayor): We had five goals and we wanted to made sure we didn't want to cut sworn fire and police. We spread the pain equitably throughout the city and throughout the various departments. That we made our full arc payment. That we would not decimate city services. And with a $179 million budget deficit you could literally decimate city services if you were to make cuts. We tried to maintain our uniformed fire and police levels but you'll notice a little slower response for the fire department by shutting down eight companies and company houses. You'll find our park and rec facilities will be maintained the same way but the fields will be less maintained. We'll be shutting down some of the restrooms during the winter months in Mission Bay. The libraries will be cutting back to five-day service on all of them except downtown, which we'll cut back to six days. And you'll see fewer hours. It'll go from 41 hours to 36 hours.

PENNER: Joining me to comment on the mayor's plan and the council's responses, Ricky Young, government editor for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Ricky, no cuts in sworn fire and police; libraries and parks will stay. Where's the pain that we’ve been promised from when the mayor asked all departments to cut 27 percent. What changed?

RICKY YOUNG (San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, Gloria, there are cuts in this budget. For instance, they are not going to fertilize the parks anymore. So, they've cut the fertilizer out of the budget this year. What this means is that there is pain that's going to be felt, it's in things like police, civilian personnel, they won't be filling out reports and this sort of thing. So, a lot of that will fall to sworn officers. There actually will be more, higher profile things.

PENNER: And this is going to save $179 million, cutting the fertilizer for the fields?

YOUNG: Well, there's a lot of things they've looked for like no more mounted patrols for the police. No more boats on Mission Bay by the police, things like that. The cuts only total $62 million this year and that when you take it across 18 months is somewhere around $80 million. The rest of the gap is being closed by one time things like making payments into reserves, deferring projects like putting fire sprinklers at City Hall. The mayor is being criticized for not making all of the cuts structural, things that will last year after year.

PENNER: But all those deferred payments are going to come back to bite us, aren't they? I mean, where's the long-term strategy for financial health?

YOUNG: Well, the criticism of the mayor is the sort of hope…hope that the economy will turn around, revenue will get better. That may or may not end up being the solution in the long-term. But the mayor has made some cuts. For instance, pension, he's reduced pensions. But that only takes affect for people hired this year, for instance. So, until they retire, you don't see those kinds of savings. So, some of what he's done may not…you may not see the benefits for years to come.

PENNER: The council has historically has this image of opposing the mayor or taking the mayor to task or changing the mayor. Can you see them breathing a sigh of relief with his proposal and just going along with him now?

YOUNG: Well, each cut, even if it isn't as deep as some people would like it to be, each cut has an interest group that's going to the microphone and ask for changes. For instance, the mayor had a plan to…eight pairs of libraries open on an alternating basis. So that they'd be open three or four days a week and switch with the other one. He's already backed away from that plan and he's just lowering library hours across the board. So, you'll see give-and-take and the council will be an important part of that process.

PENNER: This is an 18 month plan. In other words, it's going to go from the beginning of January of 2010 to the end of June 2011. Usually we have 12 month plans. What's the advantage of an 18 month plan?

YOUNG: The mayor saying if the cuts are made now, and those are carried forward into the next year. And if they are not made now you have to make them that much deeper next year to save money that you didn't save for the last six months of this fiscal year. So, quicker you do it, the less it hurts.

PENNER: My understanding is that in 2011, another $70 million will need to be cut.

YOUNG: That's the structural issue. For everything he saves this year by finding an account that has some money in it or deferring a project, that all comes due, when you haven't fixed the problem with the revenue not meeting expenditures 18 months down the road.

PENNER: OK, this mayor will be termed-out in 2012. What are the chances, I mean he's not running for reelection as mayor so he doesn't have anything political at stake here. What are the chances that when he leaves in 2012 that this city will be financially healthy or a are we really heading down the track to financial ruin?

YOUNG: From years of covering governments in California, form the state down to the city level, obviously, it seems like this is very cyclical and there's always times when they're going through this. I don't know what will be happening in 2012, but I'm certainly hopeful that it won't be as bad as it is now.

PENNER: Ricky Young, thank you very much.

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