San Diego Faces Largest Budget Deficit In City History
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November 20, 2009 – Next year, the city will face a $200 million shortfall forcing city officials to make difficult decisions about which programs to cut. The editors discuss.
Related story: San Diego Faces Largest Budget Deficit In City History
GLORIA PENNER (HOST): So San Diego faces the largest budget deficit in city history next year. Ricky mentioned Marti Emerald picking up on the problems and going ahead with it. The estimated shortfall is close to $200 million and it's going to force the mayor and the city council to make difficult decisions about which programs and services to cut. Mayor Jerry Sanders recently asked the council to identify where cuts can be made to their budgets. But, councilmembers have only suggested minimal cuts so far. So, Ricky, I'm going to return back to you on this. What kind of budget cuts have been suggested by the councilmembers so far. Are they enough? RICKY YOUNG (Government Editor, San Diego Union-Tribune): Well, the mayor asked them to take their $9.4 million budget, which is where they pay their office staff and hold their meetings and cut $1.3 million out of it, sort of as a step toward dealing what is going to be massive cuts across the city budget over the next several months. And, the council has so far cut $116,000, which is just a small portion of what he asked for. PENNER: I'll have you explain this, JW: Why have the councilmembers just sort of nodded at the cuts but not given any meaningful ones. JW AUGUST (Managing Editor, KGTV 10News): Because the can do it. The strong firm of mayor that we voted for doesn't feel like it's operating, it feels like a Rube Goldberg contraption and it's coming home to roost. PENNER: But they're going to –at least four of them- three out of them, I know, will be facing election next year, two up for reelection, one running for state assembly. How can they take a chance like this? AUGUST: Because people will forget. Because the voting public, will, whatever the voting issue right in front of them, that week when they walk into the booth, they won't remember this. PENNER: What do you think about how the political goals of these councilmembers who are seeking reelection or election to a new office, even Donna Frye's considering for supervisor, how do you think it will affect when and where the budget cuts might be made. YOUNG: I think ultimately depend on what happens with the rest of the budget. I think police, fire and shutting down libraries and they keep their budgets whole in the end, I think they could well face some repercussions for that. But I think it is early in the process, and to some extent they are waiting for the mayor to show his hand before they share theirs and there's still some politics going on. PENNER: Now that's really fascinating, you know. Who is going to show the hand first? Is this the result of the kind of form of government that we're now in called, the strong-mayor, strong-council form of government? YOUNG: Yes and to some extent I think they are still working out those roles, there's been an increasing Democratic majority on the council since Sanders took office, he of course is a Republican. So, in the next year the voters will be deciding to whether to keep this form of government so it'll be interesting to see whether they get some cohesion and work together during this very difficult time. PENNER: Let's talk about that a little bit, it's rather fascinating. When we voted on this a few years ago, it was for a temporary change, and to see, we, the voters liked it and if we liked it we would have a chance to vote it in permanently, 2010. It was called, for public consumption, the strong-mayor form of government. Is that a discussion of the form of government or the person that we had in office at the time, Jerry Sanders? AUGUST: Well, I think it depends on whether you like the mayor or not. Different people react differently in different positions. Some might say the mayor is a weak mayor and a strong form of government, which he is not able to deliver on it. Another would argue to system itself is jerry-rigged and there's issues that haven't been worked out and definitely needs some kind of an overhaul. PENNER: Alright, if we were back in the old form of government, where the mayor sat on the San Diego City Council, do you think that we would be facing this kind of a problem now, reluctance to give up any part of the council budget? YOUNG: To some extent it does feel like, it's almost like having an elected city manager. He doesn't seem to have a lot more powers than the city manager had. And the system seems to keep him in check. So, a couple times Marti Emerald, who I mentioned earlier, has slipped during council meetings and called him a city manager. So, it will be interesting to see if the public preferred that form of government or whether they stick with this. He was handily reelected last year and may well pull off retaining the role. The question is, will he continue to grow into it? PENNER: Thank you very much. Ricky Young, JW August.