While I was out, I did see that Council President Scott Peters responded to the editorial on Friday.

Remember, the editorial’s point was that worries about the pension problems the city faced were never about whether the retirement fund would be able to meet its obligations to retirees. The worry was over how much strain meeting its obligations would put on the city’s finances. And, as a new report from the city’s Independent Budget Analyst confirms, the city is suffering from a structural deficit. The city has had to invest millions more into its pension system than it ever imagined a decade ago and this, despite glorious investment returns the fund’s managers are always crowing about.

So how did Peters respond? By pointing out that the pension system is going to meet its obligations to employees and retirees.

Again, congratulations.

What is the only problem with the city’s financial position, according to Peters’ commentary? It’s that you people are cheap.

The IBA report does confirm what we have long known — San Diego is a low revenue city. Right or wrong, the City Council has been reluctant to impose new or significantly higher fees, and voters have generally not approved new taxes.

First off, I’m not sure that the report did confirm that. Read it here.

I’ll pull a section:

Since FY 2004, growth in the major revenues has averaged approximately 7.6 percent per year, including average growth rates of around 10 percent for both property tax and TOT. While state actions resulted in revenue reductions of approximately $60 million from FY 2003 through FY 2006, the City still saw significant net revenue increases from the major revenues.

The money has been coming in.

Now, forget that, let’s just agree with him. Smart people have made very legitimate arguments about the comparatively low taxes San Diego levies on its citizens and visitors.

If that’s true, if Peters is right, that the city and its voters have an insurmountable aversion to pay more taxes, then wasn’t it his, and the City Council’s, responsibility to grapple with that reality and live within their means? You spend the budget you have — not the one you wish you had.

If you want more money, you have to work like hell to get it. If you are either unwilling or unable to raise more money, you have to deal with the consequences. San Diego still hasn’t.

What the IBA report confirmed was not necessarily that the city didn’t have enough money. It was that it had a certain amount of money that has been growing unexpectedly fast. And that it was time for the city’s leaders and its residents to understand that for once and decide what would have to be cut or what new money might be raised.

This is a vitally important discussion to be having. But Peters’ message these days is that he and others deserve credit for finally starting to address the city’s looming liabilities. And if anything is not OK it is either a) not his fault, or b) a result of cheap taxpayers.

The problem is, even if he wins those arguments, the city is still losing.


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