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You Decide What To Change About San Diego’s 2014 Budget

Above: The San Diego skyline, March 13, 2011.

Aired 5/22/13 on KPBS News.

What would you change about the city budget? For each item you add, you need to make a cut to keep it balanced!

San Diegans have lots of opinions about how their city spends its money. When KPBS asked its database of sources what they would change about the city's budget, responses included cutting tourism and stadium funding, fixing up roads, adding parks and library hours and increasing police and fire budgets.

Special Feature Play the Budget Game

What would you change about the city budget? Click here to play.

But to maintain a balanced budget, each service added needs to be accompanied by a cut. KPBS' informal survey collected many more suggestions of increased spending than services that could be cut. And no one proposed tax or fee increases to generate more money.

This is a typical San Diego attitude, said UC San Diego political professor Steve Erie.

"San Diegans always want more added services, but when you ask them to pay for it, they say 'not a chance,'" he said.

To illustrate just how much added services cost, and what must be cut to compensate, KPBS has designed a simple budget game. We took suggestions from local leaders and our database of sources on what they'd like to change about the Fiscal Year 2014 budget. We then verified our numbers with budget experts and created a list of budget items to add or cut.

Play the game by clicking the box above. When you're done, create a snapshot of your budget and share it with your friends and KPBS on Facebook and Twitter. Tweet your results to @KPBSNews with the hashtag #fixSDbudget or post them on our Facebook page.

Keep in mind that these items are a snapshot of a very large and complex budget, said Andrea Tevlin, San Diego's independent budget analyst.

"This KPBS budget game is a great way to show our residents how difficult it is to balance the city's budget each year, given all of the competing funding needs of such a large and diverse city," she said. "Some of the choices for cuts may seem relatively simple but when you look behind them, as the IBA Office must do each year, the impacts can be significant."

Additions to the budget are sometimes even harder to pick, Tevlin said.

"Where do you allocate very limited tax dollars? The choices are numerous and varied," she said. "Cities are different from businesses — they do not operate to achieve a bottom line profit. Cities are solely in the business to provide the services that are required by law and those that are most important to our citizens."

Virginia Franco, a retired political activist from San Diego, said she is mostly supportive of the mayor's budget proposal.

"I am glad San Diego citizens finally voted in a progressive mayor," she said. "He mentioned city support for after-school programs, parks, playgrounds and recreation buildings. Let's focus on local infrastructure and less for wealthy parts of the city. The mayor has proposed making San Diego a model city by making it more energy efficient and emphasizing installation of solar panels and other energy efficient projects."

As for what to cut, Franco said, "take dollars from where they have traditionally been sent, to the wealthier among us, which also includes high priced hotel billionaires. After all, the majority of city citizens pay the taxes they are allowed to keep."

Don Wood, a senior policy advisor at the Pacific Energy Policy Center, told KPBS he also would cut money for hotels, as well as the Convention Center and tourism promotion groups.

“I’d rather see the city spending more money taking care of the backlog of maintenance on Balboa Park and spending money on other parks than providing all the taxpayer funded corporate welfare they’re providing to the big hotels and the tourist promotion game,” Wood said.

Science writer and San Diegan Merry Maisel wants more money spent on education, fire, ambulances and libraries.

"A fourth interest of mine is restoration of pension rights of city workers, starting with those that are lowest," she said. "I don’t think any more money should go to the Doug Manchesters or the hardened criminals of the hotelier class.”

And long-time San Diego activist Mel Shapiro wants more city staff for code enforcement.

"I think the people of this city deserve enforcement of the law," he said.

San Diegan Sarah Johnson, who works in international trade finance, wants less money spent on San Diego's sports teams and more money for "roads, sewers, schools, the homeless, vets, parks and infrastructure of all kinds."

"Support home-grown artists, performers, music and art," she said. "Talking about the homeless, we are good at telling them they are not wanted, but we don't tell them where they are wanted."

Create your own spending priorities by playing our game. Just remember to keep the budget balanced.

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Avatar for user 'EvHill'

EvHill | May 22, 2013 at 8:16 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

Growing up here in the 1950's and 1960's, kelp was never removed from the beaches. Now it is, based on the requests of a few monied interests on the immediate coast. Kelp is a natural part of the beach, it harms no one, leave it alone and stop the financial drain of DAILY seaweed removal. Sure, it puts sulphur in the air, maybe the uber wealthy will have to polish their silver more often.... What has the sulphur added to the environment all these decades, centuries, that we have now changed by removing it?

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | May 22, 2013 at 8:44 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

Please provide more information. What is the expected return on each dollar spent on each budget item?

Without this information, a budget cannot be created responsibly.

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | May 22, 2013 at 8:50 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

For example, a cut of $x to the police budget will result in a loss of $y in tax revenue. If x > y, then the cut is cost-effective. If y > x, then the cut is not cost-effective.

We need to know which cuts are cost-effective before we can decide what to cut.

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Avatar for user 'Claire Trageser'

Claire Trageser, KPBS Staff | May 22, 2013 at 8:58 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

Hi Derek, Thanks for your comments. This is only meant to be a game to illustrate how much certain budget items cost. Of course you're right that the impacts to those costs should be factored in, but that's why we have experts like Andrea Tevlin who do those calculations before the city makes real decisions.

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Avatar for user 'Derek'

Derek | May 22, 2013 at 11:28 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

Unfortunately, Tevlin doesn't seem to think prioritizing by cost-effectiveness is important. "Cities are different from businesses — they do not operate to achieve a bottom line profit." This quote implies she'd be the one to suggest flat, clumsy, across-the-board cuts, rather than cost-effective cuts that would put the city into a better financial position to restore services in the future and save taxpayers money.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 22, 2013 at 3:08 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

I know one!! Legalize pot and collect taxes!

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 22, 2013 at 3:47 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

Interesting game.

Let's see...

o End Qualcomm subsidy. No brainer... Save 17 million
o Stop Convention Center subsidy. Clearly... Save 3 million
o Cut council staff (and Mayoral???). Especially mayoral... Save 5 million
o Shut down golf courses. A hole in one... Save 3 million
o Cut Penny for the Arts. Penny for the Taxpayer... Save 9 million (wow!)

$37 million in CUTS!

o Fund Assessment of Facilities. A good first step...Cost 2
o End Infrastructure Bond Delay. Filner is not a god... Cost 5 million
o Save SDGE Settlement. Four our future...Cost (save, actually) 13million
o Increase police equipment. Protect our protectors...Cost 1 million
o Increase police staffing. Safety first... Cost 11 million

$32 million in new expenses.

$5 million under budget AND $13 million put into reserves.

Now that wasn't so hard, was it?

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 22, 2013 at 5:05 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago


I agree, legalize pot and tax it like cigarettes.

We'll be able to pave our streets in gold!

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | May 23, 2013 at 9:47 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure taxing pot would make much, it would just give the street price some competition. the cartels still could beat the "legal" price

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Avatar for user 'Mmikey'

Mmikey | May 23, 2013 at 9:48 a.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago


all good ideas , but they are all in bed with the politicians.

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Avatar for user 'JeanMarc'

JeanMarc | May 23, 2013 at 2:49 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago

California I like your ideas. What really shocked me was that Penny for the arts B.S.

Are we paying 9 million for that? WHAT? Why don't you fix the pot holes first you numb nuts!

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | May 23, 2013 at 4:24 p.m. ― 3 years, 9 months ago


I was shocked about Penny for the Arts too. Once again, this is clear evidence that San Diego has a spending problem not a revenue problem.


Actually, I just heard an interview on KPBS last night about drug dealers who are moving out of California because medical marijuana is cutting into their profits. The drug dealer interviewed said he quadrupled his income by moving to New York (where all usage, even medical, is still illegal).

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