Mayor Bob Filner released his first proposed budget earlier this week and San Diego wonks and activists are all over it.
We asked a few to share their first impressions of the budget. Their responses have been lightly edited.
Erik Bruvold, president, National University System Institute for Policy Research:
There are three important themes that emerge from reading Mayor Bob Filner’s first budget.
The first is just how difficult it is to shift directions in the city. There are a few elements (a new bike czar, $300,000 freed up for traffic bollards in Plaza de Panama) that show Filner’s new priorities but these are small potatoes in a general fund budget of $1.2 billion. There is so much of the budget that is cooked in years prior to its unveiling. Trying to make a noticeable change in just four months is problematic and serves mostly to illustrate how hard it is to shift course. This is especially true since the city, in the end, is largely people and its cost structure reflects the staffing and compensation systems that have grown up over many decades of policy making.
The second theme is more uncertain. Filner has placed a $25 million bet on getting the bargaining units to agree to a five-year freeze in their pensionable pay. Absent such an agreement (and absent unexpected windfalls) service cuts loom for the next budget. Filner campaigned on the idea that his personal relationship with labor leaders and his long history of championing progressive causes would be critical in getting such an agreement. Over the course of the spring, San Diegans will get a chance to see whether personal connections really do matter or whether self-interest trumps all.
The third, the snipe at the city attorney’s budget, seems misguided. San Diego has seen, sadly, what happens when the mayor-city attorney relationship is dysfunctional. The city charter, right or wrong, invests both these offices with independent power and authority. For the city to move forward both offices need to work together. Targeting the city attorney’s office for the only personnel cuts seems petty, unlikely to succeed and a further step toward poisoning a relationship that needs to be civil.
Chris Cate, interim president, San Diego County Taxpayers Association (Cate has filed initial paperwork to run for City Council in 2014):
It’s understandable that with a new mayor comes a new set of priorities for our city. Mayor Jerry Sanders’ tenure was primarily focused on implementing fiscal reforms to correct mistakes of the past. Mayor Bob Filner has been intent on reinvesting in neighborhoods, but his proposed budget doesn’t reflect that commitment.