Friday, February 12, 2010
JOANNE FARYON (Host): Earlier this week Pam Slater-Price, chair of the County Board of Supervisors delivered the state of the county address. It was a grab-bag of topics that ranged from parks to childhood obesity to fighting prescription drug abuse. But at its core was the county's financial situation. Slater Price says state social programs are a drain on county finances.
Pam Slater-Price: When revenue is down, this board must cut expenses. But the difference is, the state continues to mandate expensive programs, without providing all the funding, and the legislature expects counties to make up the difference. Philosophically, I disagree with those office holders who believe the public demands more programs. I think the public demands honesty. You elect us to balance the budget, not to spend more than we have. You want us to be direct. If we don't have the money for new programs, you want us to tell you so. Yet, our state government continues to throw money at all problems in the
hopes of solving every societal issue known to mankind. They are draining the taxpayers - and our state - dry. So we will continue to manage better with less until our economy improves.
FARYON: Here to comment on the State of the County Address and more are Scott Lewis, CEO of voiceofsandiego.org and J.W. August, managing editor of 10 News. Let’s start with you, Scott. What do you make of that clip?
SCOTT LEWIS (voiceofsandiego.org): Well she says they don’t want to spend money on things they can't afford. But that didn’t really apply until 2002 when they decided to give themselves and their employees millions of dollars – turns our hundreds of millions of dollars in a retroactive pension benefit that we’re going to pay for for the next couple of decades. We used to not put any money in that fund. Now it’s several hundred million dollars every year and it’s turning into a huge problem. And that’s why we don’t have money for some of the other things that she says that we named.
J.W. AUGUST (10 News): And the state’s handy whipping boy – you can always blame those guys in Sacramento. Look what idiots they are, look what they're doing to us. I don’t think it was… she wasn’t being very forthright about some of the issues.
LEWIS: Yeah. For a person that talks about personal responsibility and accountability and all that, they do play the victim card quite often. They talk about the trouble the state gives them. They talk about the trouble the recession gives them. But they want to actually explain why they’ve prioritized some things over another, and the fact is that public safety and social services have been reprioritized in favor of handouts retroactively to their own employees and to themselves.
FARYON: So, we did do some fact checking and we looked into this. Like you say, they're blaming the state on their economic woes. So $2.4 billion, that’s what it cost for these social programs the county is administering. They were cut be $11 million. So out of that $2.4 billion the county received $11 million less for those programs. However, they do have a $60 million surplus right now. So how are taxpayers to reconcile what Slater-Price says with the budget numbers?
LEWIS: Well I think that, you know, they do balance what they do quite well. And she was right. They balanced their budget. The problem is that they are investing their money in things that I think people are questioning more and more right now. And I think that’s what they're going to have to deal with – the fact, like I said, a pension benefit that’s costing several hundred million dollars a year, things like the slush fund that each supervisor gets. They are not prioritizing public safety and social welfare. And, you know, they say they philosophically disagree with those programs. Does that mean they philosophically disagree with retroactive pension benefits that they can't afford? I don't know, but that’s what they’re implying.
FARYON: Let’s talk about that disagreement with these programs – that message of anti-welfare programs on behalf of the supervisors. Do you think that reflects the politics of this community?
AUGUST: Well I think it reflects some of their constituents. Maybe some of the more powerful ones that have their ears. But I think by and large most San Diegans feel that if you're entitled to food stamps, you should have food stamps. If you should be working at a CalWORKs program, you should be able to have that opportunity without investigators coming to your house. Only in San Diego County do things like that happen.
LEWIS: And they’ve decided to declare war on people who request these benefits. Yet, like I said, they are not holding themselves to the same standard when it comes to what they hand themselves and to their employees. And look, that’s fine if that’s what you want to prioritize. But she's talking about being honest in the ways that things are being spent right now, and that’s how it’s being spent. The money is going to themselves and their employees, which are a much easier political group to pay off than the poor people.
FARYON: Slater-Price also talked about the economy in general. This county lost 45,000 jobs last year. What role does the county play in terms of keeping jobs or creating jobs?
LEWIS: Well I think one role they play is the food stamps. If they were to increase enrollment to standards that were at all comparable to other places they might invest money into the economy. That’s the point of those. And you know there’re other ways. They're building things, they're improving development, and they’re deciding how the county should look. And there's some question about whether they're doing that right or not, but that’s for the voters to decide.
FARYON: Final word on this State of the County Address?
AUGUST: They don’t have that much responsibility. If the truth be known, the San Diego City Council has to make a heck of a lot more difficult calls because they're dealing with a myriad of issues. These guys get money from this. They're mandated by the state, but they also get money from the state to take care of a lot of these programs. See, they're caretakers.
FARYON: Great, thanks. Let’s move on.