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City Prepares For Budget Vote

Aired 6/6/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

San Diego City Councilmembers Kevin Faulconer and David Alvarez will preview budget cuts, what will be spared and how the City Council will address the city's structural deficit.

San Diego City Council
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Above: San Diego City Council

A vote is expected later today on the San Diego City budget for the 2012. This budget process started earlier this year with the goal of closing a $57 million deficit. Now, through some tax and windfall revenues that deficit has gone down and some proposed cuts can be restored. How much and how quickly they can be restored still remains a sticking point.

Guests

San Diego City Councilman Kevin Faulconer, District 2

San Diego City Councilman David Alvarez, District 8

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.

CAVANAUGH: San Diego City lawmakers prepare to vote on a budget. And San Diegans get to sit out trains, trolleys, bikes, and cars. This is KPBS Midday Edition. It's Monday, June sixth, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The San Diego association of governments opens up public workshops on its 40 year transportation plan for our region. And we'll check in on the microloan industry. A women's empowerment conference just ended here in San Diego. But we begin with the vote expected later today on the San Diego City budget for 2011/2012. This budget process started earlier this year with the goal of closing a 57 million dollar deficit. Now, through some tax and wind fall revenues, that deficit has gone down. And some proposed cuts can be restored. How much and how quickly they can be restored still remains a sticking point. I'd like to welcome my guests, David Alvarez is a San Diego City Council member representing District 8, and David Alvarez, good afternoon.

ALVAREZ: Good afternoon, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Kevin Faulconer is City Councilman representing district two.

FAULCONER: Maureen, good afternoon, thanks for having me on today.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to start out by asking you both, let me start out with you, Mr. Alvarez, first, how will you voting on the mayor's budget proposal?

ALVAREZ: Well, you know, the mayor had a proposal a couple months ago, and the council being more proactive under council president Tony Young, we've been putting forward our own proposals. I put forward a proposal that would save 40 million dollars a couple months ago, then the mayor produced a revise in May, that restored a lot of the programs that the council said were important, and that I had in my proposal, but not everything has been restored in the mayor's May revision of the billion. We still have severe cuts to libraries, we still don't have funding for life guards. There are other items that haven't been restored. So I think today what you'll had are in the discussion with the City Council is how do we make sure that those programs come back to our residents.

CAVANAUGH: And specifically those programs that you are concerned about have to do with library hours?

ALVAREZ: Library hours, our pool hours have been cut, our swim teams, our water programs at our pools have been cut. . We have also reduced services in other areas like we don't have any training for our life guards like I said earlier. And so those are all programs that I think are really important, and I'm gonna be supporting. And there are others like there's -- in the City of San Diego, the Mira Mesa station, fire station, is our hazmat response team whenever there's an oil spill or something that needs to be picked up or that gets dumped illegally, they're the ones who go out and pick that up. And I think that's really inefficient. We should have someone who's dedicated to that, and let our firefighters respond to fire alarms. So there are other things we'll be talking about.

CAVANAUGH: Mr. Faulkner, how will you be voting on the revised budget proposal from the mayor?

FAULCONER: Well, Maureen, I'd tell you, I think David outlined it very well, I predict you're gonna see the council this afternoon move forward on fully restoring library hours, fully restoring rec center hours, and of course move forward to end the brown outs. Those were from my perspective, the top three items as we have gone through this budget cycle. And it has been a little bit different this year. Because you did see the council come out, make suggestions early, and I think fortunately, many of those were ones that the mayor decided to adopt and put in his recommended budget. But they're not all there. And so now it's our turn. And we have had a series of budget discussions and public hearings throughout the last month of May, so I think what you're gonna see here later this afternoon, starting at two o'clock is a council that has been very engaged but also very focused on the neighborhood services, and keeping in mind that that's the priority of our city, which is delivering these services that I mentioned. And so I think you're gonna see some of the cuts in the other areas in terms of over time, some of the IT services, etc, and I'll tell you, Maureen, I've been here now for five years. And I think from my perspective, as chairman of the audit committee, as vice chair of the budget for some years, this is probably the most collaborative effort I've seen in quite some time. And I think that the council is very united on making these changes today.

CAVANAUGH: In the mayor's revised billion, he restored some of the cuts to libraries and rec centers, about you not all. And now both of you are supporting a plan to restore all of those cuts to our libraries, and recreation centers. Why is this, Mr. Faulkner, such a -- why does it have such a high priority on your agenda?

FAULCONER: Without question, Maureen, it's one of the core services of the city. Public safety of course comes first and foremost, which is why I think you saw the council so early on saying this has to be a brighter for us to end the brownouts. But also as I think your listeners know, the public libraries are so critically important to this city for families, for kids, for people of all ages, no matter what council district you're in. And as we've seen, library use annual has been going up. That is it a core service of the City of San Diego, that's where the rubber meets the road. So when it comes to libraries, when it comes to rec centers, as David also mentioned the pool hours, these are services that you expect your tax dollars to be used for. The council's gonna make that a priority today. We're gonna have to cut back in some other areas, but I think rightfully the focus is on these neighborhood and core services. And I predict we're gonna have a very pedestrian result this afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: David Alvarez, there was only about -- if I understand correctly, only about nine million dollars in additional money is identified from tax revenues and one time savings. What are some of the ways this budget actually closes the deficit? Because there's still a deficit after that wind fall.

ALVAREZ: Yeah, and that's one of the main concerns that we have had on the council, I think, that's been expressed by all council members is the ongoing deficit. So a lot of the action that we're taking today will take care of our budget deficit for this next year, but we're all thinking long-term as well. And we have made some changes hike our retiree healthcare dealt that we reached. That will reduce some of our long-term expenses. We've reduced pay by 6 percent to our city employees. That reduces some of our obligations as well going forward. We've done a lot of cuts that are gonna help in the long-term. But obviously we want to make sure, and I think councilman Faulkner expressed it as well, we want to maintain service levels at the level that they are now, so keep pools, keep rec centers, keep libraries, all of those basic services that people want to see, keep them at the same hours that they were last year. We're not asking for more, we're not asking for less. Let's keep it the same. In the meantime, let's find cuts somewhere else, like in over time pay, let's not allow our employees to travel to conferences and be part of memberships that cost money. Let's save money in those ways that make a lot of sense. And eliminate cell phones, for example, those are all things where we can save money, and we should have been doing some time ago. And now we're actually taking the steps to get there.

CAVANAUGH: And the budget before you now, David Alvarez, does that restore service for browned out fire stations?

ALVAREZ: It restores browned out fire stations half as much as bringing them all back in line. There are some of us that support bringing full restoration, starting July first, so that is a priority, public safety, as council member Faulkner mentioned, those are priorities for us, and we've outlined them to the mayor. And we'll see where that discussion goes today.

CAVANAUGH: Now, councilman Faulkner, a lot of people have noted that this wind fall is a wind fall. Nine million dollars to maybe spare did you tells to libraries and rec centers, and maybe bring some of those browned out fire stations back on line. But it's a temporary fix. Should we expect to see these services on the chopping block again next year?

FAULCONER: Well, my answer would be unequivocally no. That these are core services that the city needs to invest in, particularly our rec centers, our library and public safety. As I think council member Alvarez has rightly pointed out, the structural changes that we've made, we've made a lot of permanent reductions. There's still a little bit more that needs to happen for next year's budget. But as you look at some of the continued cuts that we're gonna make, some of the savings that the city's making in terms of competition. For example, we just had competition for the print operations of the city. Our employees won that competition, and that's gonna saves a million dollars a year. As that program takes off, Maureen, I'm confident that we're gonna see more savings like that, that it's gonna allow us to focus brightly on the core services like public safety, like parks and libraries. But it's very clear to me that we have to keep these funded, and also as council member Alvarez said, continue to make some cuts in other areas. So I think it is a balance. But the council is united, and I think you're gonna see that today in large part of having these focus on these priority services, I think the mayor is gonna support that as well. But there is gonna have to be some work that we have to do, and certainly it's not easy in these economic times. But I think the fact that we got out early, we addressed it early, puts the City of San Diego in a much better position than some municipalities. And I will also agree with the retiree healthcare, that was a huge savings for the City of San Diego. That will save us hundreds of millions of dollars in the long-term. And I was proud to see the council support that several weeks ago.

CAVANAUGH: David Alvarez?

ALVAREZ: Yeah, the managed competition portion that counsel member Faulkner brought up, that's gonna be moving forward. We're gonna be seeing more and more of that in this next year. And there will be a significant savings that will be achieved with that. So I think you see a council that's very supportive that, and moving that forward, and I think that council member Faulkner has been a big supporter of that in the past. So you'll see more of that, more savings. And also cuts for things that we just need don't to be spending money on at the city. We should focus on the things that we know best, and the things the taxpayer expect from us. And I think that's what you're going to be seeing.

CAVANAUGH: Now, you have been expressing a great deal of optimism, a greet deal of agreement as you head into this vote on this budget. I'm wondering, let me start with you, councilman Faulkner, any fights? Any fights looming?

FAULCONER: Well, I think the reason you're hearing optimism, Maureen, is because of all of the sessions that we have gone through throughout the last several months. So there's always gonna be some disagreement, certainly, because if you look at all of the services and all of the programs, there still remains a lot of programs out there that from my standpoint certainly deserve funding, but bee just won't be in a position to do that. But I think you've seen that council is being up front with this early on, we made our proposals early, so I think particularly over the last month and, as we have had these public sessions, what you're gonna see today is the council has come together on these core services, making some tough choices, but frankly, as I said earlier, I think this has been one of the better processes that we have had since I've been on the council. And I too -- I give our council president Mr. Young a lot of credit for working with everybody. We got out early. And I think that's gonna help the final result this afternoon.

CAVANAUGH: The independent budget analyst's report seems to have been able to compromise on a lot of sticking points and find ways to find funding for things that the City Council and the mayor were a bit at odds about. How -- councilman Alvarez, how important is that report in forming your vote?

ALVAREZ: The office of the independent budget analyst in general is really critical to the council, and to the city. I think it's one of those -- we really under estimate the value of having that office here in the City of San Diego. Because it provides a really nonpartisan approach to problem solving. In the case of our budget, a nonpartisan approach to solving our budget problems. So we on the council at least I know I rely heavily on her expertise and her office's expertise. That's Andrea Tevlin, our IBA, to make sure we have the right numbers. She's very conservative. She's been known to be very conservative in the past, so when he gives us information, we take it very seriously, and we consider it very highly. Because we know that it's accurate information that we can definitely put to use. So I think we will all be using that report as a foundation, if not, the majority of what we do today will be based on that. And mind you, she took some of those suggestions that a lot of us presented ahead of time, and she really massaged them, and figured out exactly to the dollar occupant how much those cuts would save, and how much those programs would cost. So now we got a really good understanding of what it's gonna mean when we make the decisions that we do today.

CAVANAUGH: Y at two PM this afternoon, you're both prepared to cast your vote on this budget. Do you think that the actual vote will take place today, Mr. Faulkner?

FAULCONER: Yeah, I believe so, Maureen. We're gonna take public testimony again, we're gonna have the IBA did through the report that council member Alvarez rightly pointed out is very comprehensive. I certainly view us moving forward today. If we don't want, we certainly have the ability to do so tomorrow. But I think there's been a lot of good work put in, and I'm certainly ready to move forward.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay. I've been speaking with San Diego City Council members David Alvarez and Kevin Faulkner, thank you both.

ALVAREZ: Thank you.

FAULCONER: Maureen, thank you.

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