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City Council Considers Menu Of Options To Cut Deficit


The San Diego City Council recently was given a list of almost 300 options to cut its projected $56.7 million deficit for next fiscal year. We take a look at the budget cuts menu, and discuss how politics will play a role in what's decided. Plus, we talk about the disagreement between the mayor's office and the city's independent budget analyst over the amount of next year's deficit.

The San Diego City Council recently was given a list of almost 300 options to cut its projected $56.7 million deficit for next fiscal year. We take a look at the budget cuts menu, and discuss how politics will play a role in what's decided. Plus, we talk about the disagreement between the mayor's office and the city's independent budget analyst over the amount of next year's deficit.


Dennis Morgigno, director of original programming for Channel 4 San Diego

Bob Kittle, director of News Planning and Content for KUSI

Scott Lewis, chief executive officer of

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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.

GLORIA PENNER: Thank you very much, gentlemen, and let's move on. And for those of you who are waiting on the line, may I urge you to go to and register your comment. We'd really like to hear from you on this. Well, we learned earlier this week, that the San Diego City Council has no shortage of ideas to fix put problem of budget deficit. That could [CHECK] but Dennis, does the City of San Diego have to come up with a balanced budget? Our can it get into the new fiscal year ask a deficit?

MORGIGNO: Well, three from they're going to have a deficit, because I don't believe there's any way -- had, first of you will, let's say [CHECK] and there is no agree. The mayor says it's about $57 million. The have happened budget analyst says it's about [CHECK] and councilman [CHECK] [CHECK] the independent budget analyst was asked to come upon with various budget ideas to [CHECK] put up the easels in parts of the room, and you go around and you brain storm. This is kind of what they did. Unfortunately what usually happens in those cases is those pieces of paper get rolled up and put in the corner because it's just too much to comprehend, in fact, councilman Alvarez said there's no way we can get to the bottom of this, because, here, let me read you some of the ideas they come up with.

GLORIA PENNER: Oh, good, I was gonna ask you for justice a few.

MORGIGNO: Yeah, obviously there were things that have been discussed before, like privatizing things like the [CHECK] outsourcing the entire trash collection operation, switching to [CHECK] for elected officials as well as what councilman DeMaio wants to do, which is for the city employees, but also changes annual membership for dog parks. I'm adamantly opposed to that, by the way. Replace life guards by signs saying swim at your own risk.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, that would save a few bucks.


MORGIGNO: Licking their chops over that one. So they run the gamut, and I have the list here, and obviously, some of them are [CHECK] meant to start a discussion. But again, I believe the problem is that we still don't have agreement on what the kev sit is, because the independent budget analyst is using a different set of assumptions, and then there's this whole thing out there about deferred maintenance. We know what kind of shape our city's streets are in. [CHECK].

KITTLE: At some time you do have to fix those things.

GLORIA PENNER: Well, you do or you don't, you can't have a city that's simply going to fall apart. But Bob Kittle, we hear so much about perception reform

KITTLE: It's the most important thing. Because it's driving over the long term rising pension costs and retiree healthcare costs are driving the deficit. [CHECK] 50 million or hundred million dollar deficit. So the fix [CHECK] of capping what is called pensionable may, which means the amount that your pension -- the amount of your income that your perception is calculated on will not increase. You may get increased compensation through other means but it will not increase your pension payment, and that that's a sensible way, he claims that it would save 300 and some million dollars over five years. . That number may be a little high, but even if it's half that, that is rail savings.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay, well, let me ask our listeners about this. I don't know if you've seen the list of 300, you can get is it by going to the independent become analyst's website, I think it's IBA.CA -- no, well, DA -- well, whatever it is,, but it is a very interesting list, and our number, because I'd like to hear your yet about how you think that the tea will be able to manage its did he have is the if you have 1, 1-888-895-5727. 895, KPBS. [CHECK] how capable is this council of deciding among street repairs, parks are, libraries, public safety?

LEWIS: Well, this is the fundament will frustration that wee back to discussing everything in ice laying. Do we want to privatize Mira Mar? Yes or no? Do we want to raise trash taxes? Yes or no? All these little things, and we're gonna get into an argument [CHECK] where everybody has to give a little bit. And I imagine that bob's right, when you look at the burden of what the pension costs are on the city budget, pensions come from three factors. One is how much people get paid, one is how long they work, and bon is the formulas they use. Now, Aguirre, and others, you can't change it. You can't change how long a person works, obviously. The one thing that the city does have full control over, is how much they pay people, which factors into their pension. Of so I think the focus -- whether it's Carl's idea or others issue it's going to be if fully on how much people are paid in the city, pause they refuse to compromise on these other aspects, and I think even unions can would be up for discussion about capping pensionable pay, and sort of containing the costs, but that's one part of it. That's one part of the fix. Is that enough? And I ask you, bob, is that enough to sort ever assuage the concerns of taxpayers or will there be a continuing line of what the city has to achieve for revenue to be discussed? Things like a trash tax and can [CHECK].

GLORIA PENNER: Before you move over to Bob, Scott --

LEWIS: Took your job. Sorry.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's assume that the city is incapable of dealing with this deficit. Right. How will we feel that the people of San Diego, the million people who live here. How are we gonna fill that?

LEWIS: Look, the city's crumbling, whether it's streets -- drive from Point Loma to Pacific Beach one day, and do it on a scooter and try to stay alive. This is a pot hole every few seconds. [CHECK] most rec centers, and all swimming pools, library hours are devastated and are going to be attacked even more. On and on. The fire station brownouts are potentially getting worse, they might lay off police and fire the city's falling apart [CHECK]. For the future employees, but the fact is that the city all around us is falling apart, and we're turns to philanthropists, we're turning to nonprofits, and we're turning to just good people to try to protect the little things we care about in our neighborhoods.

GLORIA PENNER: Let me just mention, I do have that website, in case you want too hook at the three options [CHECK] yeah, there it is, it's slash IB, as in IBA. That's [CHECK], you can take a look at those options yourself. The question is going -- you asked bob a question, Scott, do you remember the question, bob?

KITTLE: I better recap. What --

LEWIS: What would have to happen, what's the level of reform, and changes that need to happen before we can discuss revenue increase?

KITTLE: Well, I think the voters as they showed last November when they rejected [CHECK] are not going to vote to raise taxes as long as we have a pension problem. And I think whale what it takes is solving the pension plan because the reality is, until the pension problem is it solved, any new revenue that comes in, is going to be gobbled up by the increased pension costs.

LEWIS: But that's solved?

MORGIGNO: But it's a credibility be problem, that's.

KITTLE: That's exactly right.


KITTLE: I can tell how to define solved in my mind, I look at the chart, and I see those pension costs right now, not just [CHECK] 230-million dollars now that we're paying a year, rising to close to five hundred million by 2025. When you bring that cost under control so that it's rising, maybe three percent a year or something really, then I think you've solved that problem. To me, that would be the definition of what is solved.

PENNER: Okay, well, wee gonna take a short break, when we come back, we'll pick up your calls and we'll continue this conversation. 1-888-895-5727. This is the Editors Roundtable, I'm Gloria Penner.

I'm Gloria Penner, this is the Editors Roundtable. We realize this is already approaching the end of February, March, April, May, June, in five-month business we'll be hitting the new fiscal year, and at this point, we're taking into that new fiscal year, about $56 million in deficit, maybe $95 million, whatever it is, it's a lot of money, and that's for the City of San Diego. And so people have come up with all kinds of ideas on how we should reduce the deficit, and so far there's not been any action, they've just listed the options, and they don't have that much time to go, for example, Dennis, there was a $75,000 study commissioned by the city, that tells us we already know that the city needs new fire stations and other equipment. And that study, as I said, cost $75,000. Should the city be spending tens of thousands of dollars on studies to tell us what we already know?

MORGIGNO: Well, smarter people than I will disagree over whether we should know the except of the problem, but it's interesting to vote that we're having discussion while we're still trying to figure out how to relieve some of that brownout problem where fire trucks are idled in parts of the city because there aren't enough people to run them and staff them, and provide coverage. And the study that was done shows that in order to get back to reasonable response times we have to build these extra fire stations. And the reaction from the council was simply we don't even have enough money to fund the equipment we have now to [CHECK].

LEWIS: Except for downtown.

MORGIGNO: Except for downtown. But it's very interesting, I found the most interesting part of that story was the head of the fire firsts' union, frank [CHECK] said which ebb check so we need to know what our options are, but again, it goes backing to what I said on the school issue, political courage is going to have to figure out what we have the money to pay for.

GLORIA PENNER: And that goes back to the very first question I asked, [CHECK].

MORGIGNO: I imagine we oughts to ask our listeners that.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Go ahead, Scott.

LEWIS: The city is actually quite good at building things. [CHECK] we're terrible at maintaining them, I mean, the deferred maintenance bill that you mentioned, the things we haven't kept up, from the city facilities to streets is juste enormous, and it's suffocating. But look at the -- we can build all the fire stations we want, but we don't maintain them, we don't staff them. We have a [CHECK] flooded, and in order to fix it, they had to turn to donors to fix it. This is a police station, this isn't a school or a park or library supply it is, this is police station. You have a guy in Northpark who just gave five bicycles to the police department so they could maybe maintain their bike patrol in Northpark. [CHECK] literal he just pay for it, because -- and not just a park, your protection, and that's like Mexico where you have do hire armed guards or something to take care of you. This is not the kind of future that we want to play out, but we continue to focus on building things, not maintaining them, not stagging them.


MORGIGNO: That goes back to what bob said, [CHECK] at what point, and you asked the question, at what point will people say it's time to increase revenue?

LEWIS: It's when they have the belief that the City Council has the courage to fund these things properly and not excessively.

GLORIA PENNER: Let's go to our callers, Rob, you're on with the editors.

NEW SPEAKER: Okay, I have two questions are maybe your panel can figure this out. Why do we have to have so much money in the pension program? Let me explain. I think there's about $5 billion in there. [CHECK] retirees. I understand it's to business where the business might close, but I don't think San Diego's gonna go out of business.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay, thank you, Republican, and we're gonna hold onto your question, and we're gonna hear from Joseph in south beach, and then we will move on to get final comments from our -- Pam. Joseph? You're on with us.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi Gloria, how are you doing?


NEW SPEAKER: With all this talk of fiscal crisis, it sounds, like a good time to build the Downtown library. With all this [CHECK] 30, 40 bucks a month, I'm happy to pay for that for trash collection. Thanks for taking my call.

GLORIA PENNER: Joseph, we're gonna hang onto your question, because we're gonna you can that about that in the next segment. But let's did to Ron. Scott 1234.

LEWIS: [CHECK] because of assumptions that are in it, you have to have money, there's three sources of money to fund these pensions, the [CHECK] if you cut off that third one any more than they already do, it's going to get worse and worse and worse over time, and then forget ideas that the mayor and others have to actually close the pension off to new employees which dramatically increases the responsibility, to close that gap between the assets we have and what we've promised employees. So there's no, we've already left at that 60 percent of assets it needs to fund the [CHECK] I think would be the height of irresponsibility, considering what's happened across the kitchen and world.

MORGIGNO: We did that wife.

GLORIA PENNER: Okay. Bob Kittle.

KITTLE: We've done it on a national scale, Ron, that is a very slippery slope you're talking about, [CHECK] Ponzi scheme, [CHECK] that's what Social Security is. We have no Social Security fund that actually has cash in it, we have [CHECK] that's why Social Security is a problem, we're talking the and [CHECK] and we're not saving them for you and me, we're having to use them for current --

LEWIS: But they're involved in Western Virginia. All these little --

MORGIGNO: Right, right. Yeah.

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