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City Considering Major Cuts To Eliminate $70 Million Budget Deficit


What city departments are facing the most severe cuts for next year? As the council starts to consider where cuts need to be made, we discuss how public safety could be impacted. Can the council find significant savings in its budget without making major cuts to the police and fire departments?

What city departments are facing the most severe cuts for next year? As the council starts to consider where cuts need to be made, we discuss how public safety could be impacted. Can the council find significant savings in its budget without making major cuts to the police and fire departments?


Andrew Donohue, editor of

JW August, managing editor for 10 News.

Bob Kittle, director of News Planning and Content for KUSI.

Read 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.

When it came to increasing can the City of San Diego's sales tax with Prop D on Tuesday's ballot, labor generally went with the yes side, generally, while business interests were split. The real question is what's gonna happen now that 62 percent of the voters have said no to raising the sales tax for the next five years. Andrew, let's first go back to why accident was not unified on Prop D.

ANDREW DONAHUE: Well, you had -- you had the sort of chamber of commerce EDC in like Bob had said supporting Prop D, but they weren't very passionate about if. They were very much -- their answer was very much, well, we're kind of supporting the mayor on this. And then on the other side, behind sort of the Carl DeMaio Republican party group, you had the restauranters, you had the, you know, the sort of the builders and the hotel owners who were very strongly and passionately against it, and were motivated to give money. And that's the big difference you saw between the two. The old downtown crowd, if you will, was very dispassionate and going along with the mayor, and other was very strongly against it.

GLORIA PENNER: Why was it defeated?

ANDREW DONAHUE: Wow. It was defeated for many reasons. I think first and foremost, people did not want to pay a tax in in economic climate. People we talk to at the poles, many of whom you think would be supporters of this kind of increase, basically said I can't pay my bills and I can't pay the taxes I already have. The second big part is just trust. I think people just don't trust. The could third part is it was just low turn out.

BOB KITTLE: I think the voters quite naturally said, I'm not going to give up more of my paycheck for the extravagant pension of city workers, and that's really what prop d boiled down to, and in my view, it would have been a disastrous policy for the city to pursue, because it would have taken the pressure off the mayor and the city council to fix the pension problem, and furthermore, it would have hurt the San Diego economy by imposing higher taxes during a very bad recession. And after five years, that flow of revenue would have disappeared. What kind of a public policy is that? Only the most naive would believe that the city council would really have reformed the pension and reduced the city's operating costs so that in five years, the hundred million dollars would be taken away and it wouldn't be missed.

ANDREW DONAHUE: To be clear a lot of people, everybody we talked to, who said they were against it, nobody pensioned mentions specifically, they just said I can't afford to pay this. So I don't think pensions were necessarily playing that huge of a role in people's minds, it was just the idea of paying more of a tax.

J. W. AUGUST: But they love to play the pension card. They play that all the time. If you want to get people riled up, you just roll out the pension card.

GLORIA PENNER: We are gonna talk about what's next, and I think the world pension is gonna know very much part of it. But I think it's only fair to take some calls. We have had people who have been waiting for a while on the while. I guess my question is, no Prop D no Prop D, money, where does the city of San Diego go from here in any ideas? Mike, you're on with the edit ares.


GLORIA PENNER: Mike? Un-oh. Oh, we lost mike. Oh, what pay shame. Okay. So let's give Alex a chance, Alex from Rancho Bernardo.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, I think that this tax would be like giving alcohol to an alcoholic, the more you give them, the more they want. And you view will -- the project that really doesn't affect the population of San Diego. They want $500 million on a Chargers stadium or they want to spend it on downtown, to be honest, I don't think every San Diegan goes there every week. While we drive on the roads every day.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. So basically we're saying that, as far as Alex is concerned, the City's priorities can't be trust. Is that what you're hearing J. W?

PLAINTIFF: Oh, yes, absolutely, we do have a rather miserable track record, this city has for the last 10 or 15 years, and I can understand why voters would be a little reluctant to trust or city leaders to take care of business.

BOB KITTLE: Alex touches on another point, that is as know drew mentioned earlier, there really was a back room deal to raise the cap on CCDC spending. For downtown redevelopment project, including the a stadium, the Chargers are talking about, a $500 billion dollar subsidy to help build that stadium. That happened in a way that was deplorable. It was wrought up on the floor in the legislature on the last -- at the last minute, and approved without anybody knowing about it, other than mayor Jerry Sanders and assembly man Nathan Fletcher and eye few others. That sewed a lot of confidential distrust in the last few weeks of this campaign.

GLORIA PENNER: Do we feel November comfortable today than we if he felt, let's say on Tuesday, with trusting our city council.

BOB KITTLE: I don't think so.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's go back to mike, he's with us now, mike from downtown. Welcome to the Editors' Roundtable, Mike.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you very much. I wanted to I say that I think the reason that Prop D didn't pass and the media did an excel kent job of covering the issues, the Voice, the San Diego UT, KPBS, so the voters were very well informed, Democrats kid not support Prop D in the numbers that were needed to pass it. So where I think we are now, it's this message that's been said that the voters would like to see the pension benefits cut, they would like to see the city preserve theirs familiar service, and I think that's the message, which means if what the mayor was saying in his briefing was true, the city's gonna have to take a hard look at reorganization.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. I think it's Mike Aguirre. Is that true, Mike?

NEW SPEAKER: No, no. It's just mike from downtown.

ANDREW DONAHUE: It couldn't have been mike ark Gerry because when he was actually complimenting the media.

GLORIA PENNER: No, he loves us. So many you heard what mike said, and I think that is part of the reform that councilman Carl DeMaio is about to roll out for the public at 10:00 o'clock this morning, this Friday morn. But we all have a little bit of information about what he's going to roll out. Let me start with you on this,ab crew. Carl DeMaio was the leader in the opposition to Proposition D. And he said there is a better way.

A. And he has constructed this 80 page reform plan on how to allow the city to move forward and actually save millions and millions and millions of dollars without having to cut police and fire. Where do the pensions fit into that.

ANDREW DONAHUE: We're kind of coming to a head right now, and we've been on this collision course for the left 5 to 10 years in the City of San Diego where it's basically gonna come down to some sort of reform in pension and retirement benefits or some sort ever gross slashing of city services, and that's sort of two different visions, and we've dillydallied around that, we had Mike Aguirre's lawsuits which didn't win. We had a tax increase on tuesday that didn't win, and now we're headed straight that. And I think Carl DeMaio's vision which he very personal did not lay out, he has an obligation now -- retiree healthcare, and slashing employee pay in order to try to preserve services. The mayor has laid out a completely different vision, which is just cutting jobs and services, closing police stations, closing libraries, that sort of thing. We're gonna have to see who was bluffing on election day.

GLORIA PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727. You've heard it, there are different ways of cutting the budget gap, to brick the gap, from cutting police, and fire, library, pool recreation hours, to Carl DeMaio's proposed budget savings which credits eliminating retiree health care for current workers and according to this morning's union tribune, that would save $21.5 million. I don't know over how long a period of time. Will that fly, Bob?

BOB KITTLE: I think some version of it will fly. DeMaio has outlined $80-million in savings for next year's budget. And he does it without cutting the vested benefits, because frankly frankly mike Aguirre has shown through his court battles that state law does not allow you to cute vested benefits. But what you can do is you can require workers to constrict more to their pensions and healthcare. At present, city retirees receive free healthcare from the taxpayers for life. The 73 council may not shift all of that cost to workers, but it may shift it half of it. There ever savings to be had there. He's talking about eliminating the specialty pay that cities get. For example, if you work for the fire department, you're a firefighter, you have to feel emergency medical technician training that's a requirement for the job once you are hired, you get $8,000 a year for that. He would eliminate those kinds of things to get the savings without cutting positions in the fire department.

GLORIA PENNER: I see that it is time for our break, past time for our break, so what we're gonna do, is we're gonna come back and talk a little bit more about Carl DeMaio's plan which does include freezing base salaries for city workers, that's gonna be interesting, and also eliminating special pay for city workers, I want to know how our callers feel about that. We'll be back in a moment. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. We'll take your phone calls I'm Gloria Penner.

I'm Gloria Penner, and I'm on the air today with a great panel. We have Bob Kittle from KUSI, JW August from 10 News, and Andrew Donahue from the Voice of San, and you are -- lots of callers calling in we talked about what's next after Prop D, we kind of roll out a few of the ideas that councilman Carl DeMaio has proposed, the full plan is gonna be laid out, I think, in about 15 minutes on this Friday morning. But we do have an advance here in the Union Tribune, and a couple of other places where we got some information, so wee talking with that, and we have so many callers all of whom are interested in talking about us. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. Let hear from some of them am we'll start with -- I'm gonna ask you to make it brief, because it's try to get to as many as possible. Miron from Rancho Bernardo is with us.

NEW SPEAKER: I have a question. This union negativity, this general negativity toward unions, as opposed to the attitude toward corporate America who was responsible for a good part of our economic mess, and also on election returns in the Thursday's tribune outside of John Chiang, and BIll Locklier, San Diego was a loser compared to the overall state, and I wondered, a country that was born in revolution, how come we became so conservative in this, especially in this area? Thank you.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. That's a good general question 678 and I wet J. W August can handle that.

J. W. AUGUST: I haven't welcome conservative. By golly, I'm ready to go to the streets. Miron thinks you're antiunion, J. W?

J. W. AUGUST: Oh, no I am not. My dad was a union man, my grandpa was a union man. I do have issues with some of the unions and their tactics today. I am very much in favor the unions because there are times when we need union people and protection.

ANDREW DONAHUE: It really put me on the spot.

GLORIA PENNER: I'm not gonna ask Bob Kittle.

ANDREW DONAHUE: We all know the answer to that. This is the conversation we're having about the influence of public sector union on our local government. We're not having a larger discussion about who -- about corporate America causing can the melt down in wall street and this is that. We're talking very specifically about the issues we have here on local government.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Very good. So one other thing I want to mention is that again, looking at recall Carl DeMaio's proposal as far as we can say, there would be a pay cut of about two percent for most city workers excluding police and fire. Bob Kittle, good idea? Cutting pay? Freezing case salaries? Are the city workers going to be carrying the load on their backs?

BOB KITTLE: If the DeMaio plan is adopted, why yes, they would, for the most part, but the alternative to lay off police and fire, to close police stations, as the mayor has suggested doing, browning out more fire stations etc. None of the choices are present here. But a two percent pay raise, a lot of people in the private sector have taken pay cuts. The city workers are not alone. And in general, municipal employees in san diego and elsewhere make more in pay and benefits than do comparable employees in the private sector.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Very good. Let's see. The next -- I'm just sorting through some of the phone calls that we got. After the vote, the mayor said make no mistake, there will be tough cuts coming. Can he be accused of using scare tactics? Let me ask you Andrew, that. Do we absolutely have to make the tough cuts.

ANDREW DONAHUE: Well, I think that's what we're gonna see here. There's obviously gonna have to be somebody that feels the pain. Like I said before, you have the Carl DeMaio vision of it being very much based on employee benefits, pay, retiree health care, pension, that sort of thing. The vision that the mayor is outlining is just straight layoffs and closings. And basically a smaller city government providing less services. Of so it's one or the other some sort of combination of both.

GLORIA PENNER: Where will the city council fall on this one.

ANDREW DONAHUE: I think that's interesting to see. The whole theory behind Prop D was that we needed to have some sort of coalition of people who were willing to compromise a lot bit here and a little bit there. That didn't work. So the sort of -- the DeMaio, Kevin Faulkner vision, which is not that you really need a coalition, you just need leverage, and some sort of hammer to hang over people's head, and you can go after that, I'm very interested to see how that works. I believe both those gentlemen have a real obligation to lead us toward the vision that they kind of laid out during the election.

GLORIA PENNER: OKay. We're going to leave enough time I hope to talk about super cetners, but bob, the last comment.

BOB KITTLE: Well, just quickly, I don't think there are five votes on the city council for taking a meat cleaver to police and fire and life guards. I don't think the votes are there. I think the city council, and the two new members included, are looking for ways to close the savings. And I am happy to see Carl DeMaioo plan, because I think there is substantial savings there, it is a comprehensive plan, and now it merits the scrutiny of everybody. It's being laid out in detail, let's have the debate about the Carl DeMaio approach. Unfortunately during the Prop D campaign, part of the strategy, was to demonize Carl DeMaio. And Carl is a guy who's everywhere all the time. And it's easy to try to poke fun be at him, but he's brought forth a serious plan that merits serious consideration. And I will predict that in the months ahead, much of has plan will be adopted by the city council.

GLORIA PENNER: There you've heard it from Bob Kittle.

J. W. AUGUST: I thought gravitas was something you put on cheese and cracker the.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Yes, J. W, and you support unions.

J. W. AUGUST: Yes, I do.

GLORIA PENNER: With that, we are going to move on. I really want to urge the many, many people on the phones to please go to our website, and that would be, slash the Editors' Roundtable. And you can post your comment because I really want to hear from you and hear what you have to say

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