For years, a progressive chorus has urged the county to unleash its massive reserve savings account. The volume of that conversation’s grown this year – and two county supervisors just responded.
County Supervisors Dianne Jacob and Ron Roberts announced a handful of proposals Monday to pull $25 million from the county’s reserve account to create an investment pool to encourage more affordable housing development and to consider building affordable homes on 11 county properties. They’re also looking to use $500,000 in grant funds from Roberts’ office to catalyze innovative, lower-cost development. The duo hopes fellow supervisors will approve the changes later this month in a bid to help address San Diego’s homeless and affordable housing crises.
“This is a bold initiative for the county,” Roberts said. “These are real assets, cash and properties in a significant way, and this couldn’t be happening at a more important time.”
Yet the chorus pushing supervisors to dip into reserves is unlikely to quiet anytime soon. Supervisor candidates, union leaders and advocates say they want to see more of the county’s $2 billion savings invested in the community rather than in a reserve account that’s spiked more than 60 percent since 2010.
The county’s largest employee union, Service Employees International Union Local 221, is leading a coalition pushing for increased salaries and benefits for county workers plus expanded safety net services and other policy priorities. This spring, the coalition displayed charts breaking down the county’s substantive reserves at a series of community meetings across the region.
Activists alone aren’t likely to encourage the county to abandon long-held policies that allowed it to accrue billions. But politicians ramping up campaigns to replace four long-sitting supervisors could. By 2020, all but one current county supervisor will be termed out, and a new board could usher in a new approach.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
There is an important distinction not immediately clear in the above piece. To the extent the "one-time use for one-time funds" policy is actually limited to "one-time" funds, that is prudent. A person wouldn't use a $1,000 tax return in one year as the sole payment source for a five-year, $1,000/year cable subscription because there's no guarantee there'll be money to pay for it in years 2 through 5. However, if the reserve policy is being extended to annual revenues, that's another matter. Again, by analogy, if you have a stable business that has revenues of $1 Million per year for the last 10 years and projections of the same for the next 10 years, it wouldn't be prudent to plan to spend *all* of that revenue, but certainly you could rely on *some* of it to plan for new company initiatives, even ongoing ones.
A simpler example might be that most people probably agree it doesn't make sense to sell a piece of land for a million dollars and use the proceeds to start a program that costs a million dollars per year because there's no way to know where the future money will come from.
My point is that the County has an idea of how much revenue it brings in each year and even after we carefully plan for various eventualities, we ought to be engaged in a policy discussion about how some of the rest of that revenue could be supporting our region's children and youth and the 40% of senior citizens who can't afford food, housing, transportation and health care in our region.