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I made a big deal of this graph in my column Friday:
There just really is no illustration that better communicates the financial trouble the city of San Diego is still dealing with. That you can have a graph like that tracking the city’s revenue increases over the years and at the same time still be talking about having to cut city services is just astounding.
I heard from a number of readers who were surprised by that. Was this an indication of some kind of massive fraud or something? Or was I, by not fully explaining where the money is going, implying that the mayor and city were just “pissing” away all the taxpayers’ money?
No. There are a couple of main things going on. We are paying a massive bill to the city’s employee pension system. Remember, the mantra of the pension crisis: It was never, or never should have been, a question of whether the San Diego City Employees’ Retirement System was in jeopardy of complete failure. That’s just not an option. The question, and the whole point of the hoopla about the issue, was what strain on the city’s budget would saving the pension system cause?
This year, again, the city is paying more than $160 million to its employee pension system. In 2003, the payment was (a now-paltry) $85 million.
And that’s what we’re feeling now. The mayor, to his credit, is doing the right thing. He is paying the pension bill. But he is also putting money aside to pay for the health care costs of retirees. The city promised years ago that all of its employees would have their medical bills paid for the rest of their lives. With health care costs rising, that’s no meaningless promise.
But the city had never set aside money for this in the past. Now it is, putting an additional $27 million aside this year to begin saving for its future bills.
Finally, the city, like other agencies, has a massive backlog of “deferred maintenance.” First of all, they need to come up with a better term for this because studies have proven that just saying “deferred maintenance” out loud will completely immobilize rats for up to five hours. The precise effect on humans of hearing the nauseating term is not yet known.
So, better said, the city’s buildings are falling apart. And we’ve put off — “deferred” — the upkeep on them for years and years. Again, we did this during times of supposed prosperity in the economy.
Now we are putting tens of millions into catching up.
If you want to know why we have to get rid of librarians and others this year, there’s really nothing else you need to know.
Does the mayor deserve a parade for paying for these things? No. It’s simply the right thing — and only thing — to do if you care about the city and its future.
I sometimes expect my wife to notice and praise me for doing the dishes. But that’s lame. I’m just supposed to do the dishes and she’s supposed to do other things. The mayor is supposed to do this. He doesn’t need someone to pat him on back and say nice job for doing something that he simply has to do. I suppose we can be happy that he’s not further “deferring” all of these costs.