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Sanders Zeroes In On Pensions, Bonuses, Competition

Sanders Zeroes In On Pensions, Bonuses, Competition
Mayor Jerry Sanders' priorities for his final two years in office include changing the pension system, allowing more managed competition for city projects and expansion of the downtown convention center.

In his State of the City Address, Mayor Jerry Sanders outlined his priorities for his final two years in office, including changing the pension system, allowing more managed competition for city projects and expansion of the downtown convention center.


David Rolland, editor, San Diego City Beat


Kent Davy, editor, North County Times

Michael Smolens, government editor, San Diego Union Tribune

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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.

PENNER: Wednesday night, mayor Jerry Sanders gave his sixth annual state of the city speech. Hey has only one more to go. David, how did this speech differ from speeches of the past?

ROLLAND: It didn't, really. We're talking since, I don't know when, probably since about 2004, 2005, we've basically been talking about the same thing, which is how do we crime out of this mess that we're in? Independent it was Jerry Sanders, when he was elected back in it 2005, I think it was, basically said I'm the fix it guy. I'm coming in, I'm gonna fix a problem. And I'm not gonna be -- I'm not gonna be touting any grand initiatives for the future. Come ironically, he kind of sorta does in one. But largely, we're talking about fixing problems. And it's really kind of getting kind of boring.

PENNER: Boring. But kid he come up with anything that we can sink our teeth into and say, hey, maybe this year something will happen?


ROLLAND: Well, if you like sinking your teeth into, you know, losing sort of public sector pensions said we know it and going more to a 401K plan. If you like sinking your teeth into that sort of thing, then I suppose you're happy. He says that he really learned a lesson with the spectacular failure of Proposition D. That was his word. He says, you know, no means no. We realize -- and he actually took it even farther saying, not only are -- we can't raise the sales tax like we wanted to, we're not gonna raise any taxes. We heard the public say -- he heard the public say frankly measure I did, they said no new taxes, no new revenue at all.

PENNER: Well, he's talking about Proposition D and extending that idea a bit.

ROLLAND: Yeah, but he said -- right after he said, you know, we heard you loud and clear, he added a bit, I don't have it right in front of me, but he added a little bit saying and this doesn't mean we'll accept some other type of tax increase. You know, and to me, that means things like raising the storm water fee or raising the fee for trash. It sounds like he's taking all revenue options off the table and really, really getting down to cuts in this services and cuts in employee compensation.

PENNER: Are, he has less than two years to go, Kent. I mean, I'm not saying that he's just gonna float through the next year and a half or what have you, but it sure is easier, isn't it not to start fighting the public on raising taxes?

DAVY: Well, it's kind of the Arnold Schwarzenegger problem. You're instantly a lame duck, you don't have a lot of options, you've got a terrible budget mess with enormous pension liabilities, and enormous out expenditures, and outgoes, you don't have a lot of alternatives.

PENNER: Who wants that job?

DAVY: Good question.

PENNER: That's right. And I would like to ask --

SMOLLENS: There's some people lining up.

ROLLAND: Yeah, there's several that do.

PENNER: I'd like to ask our listeners about that. You've read about -- not Jerry Brown, this is Jerry Sanders' speech, or you've heard it, you've heard commentary on it. Do you feel comfortable that the mayor finally has control over what's happening in San Diego and knows what to do about it? And is it the right way to go? 1-888-895-5727. 895 KPBS. Michael, last year the council approved the mayor's man by reducing library hours, increasing park meter revenue, cutting park maintenance, public cyst programs, and we still, up until this morning, faced a 77 million deficit. I read in the UT this morning that the deficit is, like, $22 million less because they have found some pension savings?

SMOLLENS: Well, are the pension liability hasn't really changed of it's the issue -- I mean, it's an ironic thing that next year that they actually have to cop tribute slightly more to the pension system, about you not nearly as much as they thought they were going to have to. So they thought that larger sum was part of the deficit. But anyway, cutting to the chase here. There's not gonna be new money. Reflecting on what David said, Council President Tony Young said, I think after they had this commission, the revenue commission they came up with all these things, these fees that City of San Diego do not charge that they should, that other cities do for parking structures, for this and that and the other thing, that people are thinking that's sort of a free lunch for certain be businesses and things like that. He just said that he doesn't think that people are -- this is a nonstarter, that after Prop D, even though it was just sales tax, about you I think to suggest this it's just sales tax, to go back with some sort of tax increase is probably a nonstarter. Now, can they deal with certain things to make the fees pay for the serves that they're supposed to be paying for? Maybe they'll start looking at that after the dust settles. David mentioned storm water fees of that's been a hugely controversial issue. And they're way underpaying for that. But there's not gonna be any new big pot of money. And I think, as with the State, the City has to deal with that reality as opposed to keep trying to push that rock up the hill. And the mayor's not gonna try to do that in the less than two years that he's got history.

PENNER: Interesting, yesterday, I interviewed Tony Young who was the new president of the San Diego City Council. And I asked him, what is his agenda? And his agenda, he said, is just to get all the options on the table. And I said, you know, don't you have anything that you think might help the situation? Yes, one thing, he mentioned. And that is to privatize airports and golf courses, that the city -- that should not be the city's business. Now, as an outsider, Kent, because you don't live in the City of San Diego or operate in here, what do you think about that?

DAVY: Well, I guess I'd want to know first how much money do they lose. Privatizing in order to help a budget solution is kind of like the state saying we're gonna sell the fairgrounds in Del Mar to help cure the budget crisis. And in fact, the net gain to the state is not much in the terms of the deal that Schwarzenegger was dealing with last fall. Same problem with this. It depends. If you're losing a huge amount of money, maybe stop the bleeding. It helps. But --

PENNER: Okay, a final question, and this one to you, David. Last year, the mayor said that the era of decay and neglect was at an end. Actually, that was a couple of years ago. This year he's saying that because past cuts were so deep, the next wave will be the harshest. Quote, when the cutting is done, we will have sculpted a government that lives within its means. Is that gonna happen on his watch?

ROLLAND: Well, he's going -- he's right, they're gonna continue to cut. And just like we were talking about the state, as you year after year after year, they get closer to the bone and they get a lot more painful. Whether he can -- I mean, he has to balance the budget every year. They've gotta find the money somewhere. So it's really just a matter of the priorities. So to answer your question, your question was probably about the long-term structural deficit of that's really just sort of a -- that's a floating, moving target. What's whatever your community -- where it puts its priorities. Michael said, there's not gonna be any new pots of money. And San Diegans tend to want to do more with less, and they will up to the point where it hurts them. And if they feel like they're hurting, they might at some time get to the point where they want to put some more money in.

PENNER: David Rolland, thank you very much for your participation today. That's David Rolland from San Diego City beat, and Michael thank you, Michael Smollens from the UT. And from enormous I thank Kent cavy, and our callers and our listeners. This has been the Editors Roundtable. I'm Gloria Penner.