Monday, February 13, 2006 | The staff here at Scott Lewis on Politics, or SLOP™, has decided to occasionally compile a list of local myths that need – if not complete debunking – a little perspective. Below, is our first product in that line.
Myth: There is a proposal to build a new stadium to keep the Chargers in the San Diego region. It’s just a matter of local governments working together with the team from here forward.
Reality: No. Right now, for the first time in a long time, there is no plan on the table for a new stadium, which the Chargers say is necessary to keep the team here.
The Chargers’ proposal for a new stadium and 6,000 new condos in Mission Valley – which has been the subject of debate for three years now – is quite dead.
The team hasn’t come back from the drawing board with something else. While there is almost certainly backroom discussions occurring, officials from the team, the city and other local governments have offered no reason for the general public and Chargers fans to believe that the team will stay. Unless, of course, the team wants to stay at Qualcomm.
-Myth: Police officers from the city of San Diego took a more than 3 percent salary cut this year.
Reality: The half-dozen or so cops who e-mail me regularly are this very minute pounding away at their keyboards: “Here you go again, smart ass, how do you explain that my check is smaller than it used to be?”
Many police officers and their representatives have recently been arguing on the public stage that they took a more than 3 percent pay cut this year. That was one of the major reasons cited for a possible police “exodus” from a department in the northern part of the city in an NBC 7/39 news broadcast Feb. 8.
While police officers may indeed be leaving because of their level of pay – and they may deserve more money for what they do for us – don’t let them tell you they got a 3 percent salary cut this year.
Because they didn’t, nor did the firefighters, the deputy city attorneys or the city’s white-collar workers. The police officers were forced to take a contract last year that was similar to the contracts agreed to by these three other employee groups. The contracts required these employees – including police – to pay more into the pension system than they had in years past. For the police that meant 3.2 percent of salary that used to go to their pockets now goes to the pension system.
And this can’t be considered a cut in pay in any form because – as city employees regularly remind us – the money in the pension system is theirs.
There’s more to it than that: The City Charter requires the city and its employees to split the “normal cost” of maintaining pensions. In other words, in a perfect world, the employees and the employer would both put an equal amount of cash into the pension system each year, the pension system would invest that money and earn enough to pay the pensions promised to public workers. If, for some reason, the pension system didn’t earn enough to support the pensions promised, than the government would use taxpayer money to shore it up.
But that’s not how it really works. Governments across California, including the city and county of San Diego, routinely “pick-up” the employees’ portions of annual pension requirements. They do that in order to increase employee pay without, you know, increasing employee pay.
-Myth: These sorts of deals will create “savings” for the city – savings that will offset, say, the loss of $10.3 million a year when we give investors all the money we receive each year from the massive tobacco settlement the city gets a part of.
The city’s new chief financial officer proposed Monday that the city give investors the rights to any money San Diego gets from the tobacco companies for the foreseeable future. Actually he made some predictions. He said he planned to have the city send $10.3 million to the buyers of this bond every year for the next 16 years.
In exchange, the city gets $100 million right now.
He said the lost tobacco revenue will be offset by the money the city is saving this year from its deals with the unions.
Yes, as explained above, if employees have to pay more into the pension system and relieve the city of its commitment to “pick up” part of their share, it will be a reduction in costs for the city. But let’s get real: It doesn’t mean that money is freed up just waiting for a place to call home.
The city is gearing up for its biggest payment to its employee retirement fund ever. Yes, it will not be making a part of the employees’ contribution for them anymore, but it will still have to send most of that “savings” to the pension fund anyway.
It’s hard to tell what this tobacco money was funding – the San Diego Reader several months ago quoted somebody who aptly stated that money recovered by the city from the tobacco companies for years has been poured into the city’s general fund like a pitcher of water into a swimming pool. It’s impossible to track.
But when the city steps up to make its big pension payment, and if the city takes $10.3 million a year away from the general fund and gives it to investors, we’ll know what that tobacco money was funding. Or, at least, we’ll know quite well what it’s not going to be funding from now on.
Sure, that may be her title, but she doesn’t advocate anything on behalf of readers who have complaints about the paper. Her weekly column runs on Mondays and serves only as a forum for her to tell readers how really unsavvy they are about how the newspaper works. She also regularly points out how readers’ complaints, while accepted, are completely bogus.
And that may be correct, actually. Lubrano may be right that all the complaints she gets are bogus and readers just don’t understand what they’re talking about. But if the Union-Tribune wants to publish that column regularly, they should rename it: “Gina Lubrano: Why You’re Wrong.” They could put in a seductive tag like this: Gina Lubrano helps you understand why your complaints are completely off-base every Monday.
To Lubrano, the Union-Tribune is always right. If you complain about the paper’s political coverage, you’re a “partisan.” If you think the paper piled on disgraced former Congressman Duke Cunningham when he was down and not several years ago when it really mattered, you’re just wrong. The Union-Tribune has always covered Cunningham in depth, she said. In 1999, we wrote that he had flipped somebody off at a public event, she said.
If you’re curious about the paper’s recent push toward “Watchdog Reports” and investigative efforts, you simply haven’t been paying attention, she wrote. The paper has always done investigations at that level and frequency.
When you complain that it seems weird that the paper would move coverage of the war in Iraq to the back pages rather than page 2, where it had lived for months, you’re part of a “small but vocal” circle of readers who don’t understand that the paper needed “an antidote to the more-often-than-not bad or sad front-page news.”
The Union-Tribune may not do anything wrong and it may be as near perfect a newspaper possible. Even if that’s the case, there’s got to be one or two complaints or questions about the paper – however trivial they might be – that have merit, and deserve consideration strong follow-ups by somebody who’s called a “reader’s advocate.”
I know, I know, where’s Voice of San Diego’s reader advocate, then? Good question. We decided to skip the expense of having a reader’s advocate like Lubrano. Instead, we simply let our editors themselves tell readers that their complaints about Voice are off-base and wrong and that they just don’t understand what it is we do over here.
Editor’s note: A piece of humble pie: Lubrano’s formal title is “readers representative.” It was incorrectly labeled “reader advocate” when this story was first published.
Don’t agree? Want to complain? Truth is, we’ll take it seriously. Scott Lewis oversees Voice’s commentary section. Please contact him directly at