Do you want the city to prevent further cuts, maintain funding for essential services and spend less on employee pensions?
Or do you want the city to balance the latest budget deficit by further cutting already scaled-back programs and services?
The choice will be yours on Nov. 2.
The Reform Before Revenue initiative that my council colleagues and I placed on the ballot will give San Diegans unprecedented control over the future of this city. If approved, the longstanding structural budget deficit that has led to service cuts throughout the last decade will be decreased substantially, if not eliminated entirely.
“Reform before revenue” is the call we have heard from the public, and one we’ve been acting on as a City Council since my election.
Tremendous belt-tightening has already occurred throughout the city, yielding hundreds of millions of dollars worth of savings to taxpayers. Reforms include: any future increases in pension benefits for city employees have to be approved by voters; all city employees hired after July 1, 2009, have a far more modest retirement package that is less costly to taxpayers; the interest rate for the deferred retirement option program was reduced; city employees accepted a 6 percent pay decrease; and the unfunded liability of the pension system decreased because of salary freezes.
But because the city has a structural imbalance, even the reforms we approved didn’t prevent budget shortfalls over the last decade. In other words, the city has over-relied on a declining revenue base and can no longer meet the needs of a growing population. The cuts have resulted in average weekly library hours decreasing from 48 to 36; average weekly recreation center hours decreasing from 62.5 to 40; firefighters per 100,000 city residents decreasing from 80 to 71; police officers per 100,000 city residents decreasing from 166 to 158; and the average wait time to answer 911 calls increasing from four seconds to 10 seconds.
Despite these cuts, come July 1, 2011, we are projected to face another $70 million-$80 million deficit.
I believe San Diegans deserve better than this, and I know most of you expect more than this.
The ballot measure that is now being drafted by our City Attorney is a grand compromise and requires the city and our employees to make significant progress on additional reforms.
In approving the initiative, you will be directing the city to complete the Managed Competition Guide, which will allow for the solicitation of bids and competition for services like printing and park maintenance; eliminate the city’s retirement offset for elected officials and other unclassified and unrepresented employees; complete the DROP Cost-Neutrality Study and, if required, take the necessary actions to ensure the program is cost neutral; solicit qualified bidders to operate the Miramar Landfill; and make several other changes that would critically improve the city’s finances on a go-forward basis. When the city accomplishes the 10 reforms, it could charge a temporary half-cent sales tax increase for five years.
This will generate approximately $103 million in each of its five years, which will be used for the city’s core functions, including the police department, fire-rescue department, and street maintenance.
The provisional nature of the tax increase is purposeful: because that funding stream is not permanent, the city must maintain financial discipline and continue to make changes beyond those described above to maintain service levels.
I am confident that some of these additional necessary changes will come forward through the Citizens Revenue Review and Economic Competitiveness Commission (CRRECC). After approximately one year of public meetings during which the city’s financial conditions and climate were discussed, CRRECC’s process should conclude this fall with some options for strengthening both.
There is no perfect time to propose additional fees or taxes. However, the city’s proposal is shorter in duration than tax increases approved in other local jurisdictions in the last four years, and it includes taxpayer protections and reforms. The alternatives are beyond grim: police officer layoffs; closures of fire stations, libraries, and recreation centers; and postponement of ongoing community plan updates.
When I voted to approve the drastic cuts to the Fiscal Year 10 and Fiscal Year 11 budgets, I did so with the belief that progress would be made to address the city’s longstanding structural budget deficit, meaning fire engine brownouts, the disappearance of mounted police patrols in Balboa Park and the harbor police unit, the (again) abbreviated library hours and other painful cuts would be short-lived and, along with other diminished services, would be on their way to being restored.
The Reform Before Revenue initiative puts you in control of the restoration of those services and the restoration of financial stability for the City of San Diego. Through reforms and revenue, our city will be safer, our roads will be smoother, and the city will have earned the public’s trust once again.