Friday, September 24, 2010
San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders is asking city departments to identify where budget cuts can be made to close a projected $72 million deficit for next fiscal year. At the same time, the Mayor is urging voters to support Proposition D to prevent against large cuts to public safety.
GLORIA PENNER (Host): Well, just as the political rhetoric is ramped up for and against the sales tax increase, Proposition D, the mayor, that’s Mayor Sanders, calls for major cuts in fire and police departments. Now those cuts count for one-third of the $72 million shortfall that the City is going to be experiencing in the next budget session. Public safety cuts get the public’s attention. So, David, Prop D would raise the city sales tax by one-half of a cent to bring much-needed revenue to the city, about $100 million dollars. It goes into effect if ten changes are made to City Operations and employee pensions. What is the most compelling argument against Prop D?
DAVID KING (Editor/Founder, sandiegonewsroom.com): Well, the argument against Prop D is that to enact a sales tax and feed San Diego city government $100 million a year, you simply delay the inevitable. The $100 million a year for five years, if that’s enough to cover all the budget gaps, and you’ve got escalating pension contributions that are going to be coming, delay the process of outsourcing City of San Diego employees. What the City has is unsustainable pension obligations and retiree health obligations and we’ve, you know, the City of San Diego bought the snake oil for a number of years that, okay, well we’ll just go to court and unwind them. There’s – That didn’t work. There’s one of two solutions. We can, one, we can outsource so there’s fewer people who earn these pension contributions, or, two, we can try to get the DeLorean from “Back to Future” (sic) and go back to ’96 and 2002 and reverse the votes to enhance pension benefits and underfund the pension. If you simply raise taxes and postpone the process, and it takes the pressure off of the impetus to outsource, I think would be the argument here. It delays the inevitable. And people don’t buy that these ten conditions will actually mean – or ensure that anything tangible will happen to cause reform.
PENNER: Well, it’s kind of interesting because Mayor Sanders, who is an advocate of Prop D, along with council member Donna Frye and most of the council, he managed to convince San Diego Chamber of Commerce, and that represents the business community, to delay a vote on whether they would support or not support Proposition D and he said that what he was doing was he was asking them to give him two weeks to try to enact as many of the ten changes to employee pensions and City Operations linked to Prop D as possible. I mean, Alisa, how realistic is that?
ALISA JOYCE BARBA (Western Bureau Chief, NPR News): It seems to me he was facing a likely vote or a decision by the city council not to support Prop D. And that would be the kiss of death, frankly, for Prop D, if the business community, the Chamber of Commerce comes out and says Prop D isn’t going to work, you know, again, in this political climate, any kind of tax hike – any kind of tax hike ever in San Diego’s problematic but in this climate it’s even worse. So he was facing, I think, a decision not to support Prop D. He puts it off for a couple weeks. I don’t know what kind of wheeling and dealing he can possible do with the Chamber to convince them that this is going to work.
PENNER: Well, he said he was going to try to enact as many of these conditions as possible.
BARBA: In two weeks?
PENNER: In two weeks. And he’s been in office for what, seven – six years?
PENNER: Yeah. The question, of course, to our callers, and I’m always interested in your view of this, Prop D, you know, would impose a half cent sales tax on you for five years, I think it is, providing certain conditions are taken care of by the city council in advance. I’d like to know where your head is on this. Are you going to vote for Prop D? It really just needs a simple majority to pass, doesn’t it, Andrew?
ANDREW DONOHUE (Editor, voiceofsandiego.org): Yes, it does.
PENNER: Okay, so with a simple majority, it could pass, bring in $100 million. I’d like to know whether this is a proposition that you could vote for or vote against and why. Andrew, on this program in the past, we’ve had editors who implied that the ten conditions are window dressing and won’t solve the spending-exceeding-revenue problem. Is any solution better than none?
DONOHUE: I think that’s a fundamental question that everybody’s dealing with right now. I mean, this is the first time in the history of the city’s financial crisis that there’s been a major compromise proposal put together with people from different sides of the whole political world to actually make some sort of progress. The major question and I think the one that the chamber is grappling with is does this solve the problem in the longterm? Or is this some sort of small step? And right now the mayor’s been saying this is going to solve the problem in the longterm and his friends in the Chamber are looking at it and know that it won’t. And so they’re trying right now to push him to really, I think, crank up his expectations of how much money they can save on this, otherwise they’re not going to get behind it.
PENNER: Our number is 1-888-895-5727, 895-KPBS. Alisa.
BARBA: You know, I think that just what Andrew said about how this is the first time a compromise has been crafted between labor and the city government, and I think – I mean, my own personal opinion for the, you know, to put it out there is that people do have to see this as one step in the right direction.
PENNER: Well, I’m just wondering, David King…
PENNER: …is what we’re seeing now, enacted out now, at the City level a microcosm of what is happening with the state budget, Republicans against Democrats? In the city council, there are two Republicans, they’re both opposed to Prop D. Democrats are all for it. Labor against business, fiscal conservatives against economic liberals, I mean, is it just playing out at the city level what we’re seeing at the state?
KING: Right. I mean, it’s fundamentally a contest between public employees and taxpayers. And the compromise with labor unions hasn’t come yet, and that’s the great unknown. If we enact all these reforms and they go to meet and confer and all the other processes they’ve got to go to to actually implement any of these reforms, how far is labor going to bend to make it happen? The compromise that’s happened here is the members of the city council who are compromising among themselves between their first allegiance to public employees and their second allegiance to the taxpayers. They’re finally confessing publicly what we have been doing for all these years since managed competition was enacted by the voters, is we’ve been delaying and now we’re finally going to get started doing some of this. We’re going to try and unwind some of the pension benefits, and they truly can’t be blamed, the current members of the council can’t be blamed for all the pension benefits since a lot of them weren’t on there. But in terms of delaying the managed competition process, they’re coming out and saying, okay, now we’ve been delaying all this time but we’ll finally get started doing something but you got to give us a sale tax in exchange.
PENNER: Okay, I know that Andrew and Alisa both want to respond to that, and we have a lot of callers on the line as well. We need to take a short break. We’ll be back in just a moment so stay with us because there’s lots more to talk about. This is the Editors Roundtable. I’m Gloria Penner.
PENNER: Well, here we are at the Editors Roundtable, ready to go and continuing this vigorous discussion on Proposition D, which would increase your sales tax in the city of San Diego in order to theoretically realize $100 million a year to help out the budget, and we’re having all kinds of opinions on this. And David King just said something. David, whatever you said, it struck…
KING: That usually happens. I have that tendency.
PENNER: It struck a chord with Alisa and Andrew, so, Alisa Joyce Barba, you’re on.
BARBA: I think what David was saying, that this is more or less window dressing and it wasn’t a compromise with labor, that labor did not compromise, and it remains to be seen how much they will actually give up when push comes to shove, and I guess my own – my just point about this whole thing is that I think this – there’s a flicker of honest politicians or a flicker of honest politics out there that I think should be rewarded is a step in the right direction.
PENNER: So that’s not an oxymoron?
PENNER: Oh, okay.
BARBA: Not in this case.
PENNER: Okay. Andrew.
DONOHUE: I think it’s oversimplifying things to put this as some sort of business versus – the old business versus labor battle. I mean, business hasn’t made a decision yet so we still have to watch to see what they did. To act like Donna Frye has been some sort of lackey of the employee unions in her time in city council is not, you know, is not the truth either. I think what we have to live with is the world that we live in, not the world as we wish it would be. And the fact is, is that a number of these things probably wouldn’t get done at all unless you had labor at the table with some sort of hammer over their head, and the hammer they have now is that if they agree to a significant amount of cuts in certain things, that there will be a tax increase injected into the city and so absent that sort of nugget, absent that sort of compromise, you’re not going to be able to get a lot of the reforms that you want to get done at city hall.
PENNER: Well, let’s hear what our listeners have to say and, again, I urge you, if you don’t get on this morning, go to KPBS.org/editorsroundtable. Conversation continues there. But let’s hear from Edward now in Mira Mesa. Edward, you’re on with the editors.
EDWARD (Caller, Mira Mesa): Thank you, Gloria. To answer your question, no, I’m voting no on Proposition D because these are – these ten conditions, by the way, they’re not being done by labor. They’re either going to be done or not done by the mayor and the city council, and they’ve had, as you pointed out, six years for the mayor to do it and now he says he’s going to do in two weeks what he should’ve done six years ago. No, it’s – it’s a ruse and I’m voting no.
PENNER: Okay, thank you, Edward. Before we go to your comment, Andrew, let’s just hear from Mike in Banker’s Hill. He’s been waiting awhile. Mike, you’re on with the editors.
MIKE (Caller, Banker’s Hill): Good morning. What we have to understand about the pension issue is that the bill is $7.2 billion. And the way that we got there was the creation of lots of benefits without any vote of the public, along the lines of what happened in Bell. And what you’re starting to see now is that people are starting to be prosecuted for what happened and that’s more along the lines of what needs to happen in San Diego. We don’t need to increase the taxes, what we need to do is decrease the debt and that requires us to go into bankruptcy.
MIKE: And that’s really where we are.
PENNER: I recognize your voice, Mike. May I say who you are?
MIKE: You certainly may.
PENNER: That’s Michael Aguirre, former city attorney for San Diego. Thank you very much.
MIKE: Thank you.
PENNER: Final comments from our editors. Andrew.
DONOHUE: Yeah, two quick points. I think the idea that – I don’t think that’s true that the mayor was going to go and try to get these things done in two weeks. He was going to go and try to negotiate and see what he can figure out with the Chamber. But I think Mike’s point is a very salient one. We have massive amounts of liabilities and I think what we have to assess is, is this just a token measure that’s going to cost us a lot of money and not deal with the real bigger issues here, and I think that’s a conversation we have to have in the next couple of months.
PENNER: Okay, well, Alisa?
BARBA: A lot of the critics are saying that these ten measures are things we should’ve done years ago but the fact is we didn’t and we couldn’t, and now we’re starting to.
PENNER: Final words from you, David.
KING: I have to agree wholeheartedly with Andrew on one point, that Donna Frye is nobody’s lackey. I do have to disagree, though, the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce is not a business organization.
PENNER: It’s not?
KING: No. I would not characterize the San Diego Regional Chamber – If you want to get political types to laugh in San Diego, start a sentence with San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce supports or opposes… There’s at least five to ten organizations which have more political sway in San Diego before the Regional Chamber does.
PENNER: Name one.
KING: And it – the Restaurant Association, the Building Industry Association…
PENNER: Got it.
KING: …every labor union.
PENNER: Got it. Okay. Well, thank you very much for that very robust discussion, and let us move on. And thanks to the callers, of course, and do go to our website.