I started to add some insights to Rani Gupta‘s reporting nuggets on the library, the Chargers and the pension, and I was suddenly thrown into a time warp. These were the three very issues we spent so much time on in 2002, when I first started reporting on City Hall.

Here we are, going on seven years later, they’re still hot issues and not too much has changed.

On to my points:

  • Gupta just reported this about the state librarian, who controls a $20 million for the downtown library that’s set to expire:

    In her letter, Hildreth states that she remains “concerned about the viability of local funds that are committed to this project.” She asks for “donor agreement letters or similar documents that verify the availability of the $33 million in private contributions” mentioned in the city’s letter. Only $3 million in private donations have been publicly pledged for the library.

    This is a key point. Library boosters say they have $33 million pledged, but so far we only have $3 million of that publicly confirmed. We’ve always wondered who put up that other $30 million and, apparently, so has the state librarian.

    She also asked for a new price estimate. When the downtown library was approved by City Council in 2002, it was estimated to cost $150 million. In 2005, that estimate was revised to be $185 million, but that estimate included “value engineering” (which is code for cheaper materials) and the removal of certain amenities. So now, in 2009, what’s it going to cost, and is anything else going to be removed to save money? These are important questions to have answered, especially now with time and potential resources going into this not just from the city but from the school district.

  • Our new political reporter also had this fascinating look at the economics of sports last night.

    Football has always been the closest thing professional sports have to socialism. It has a pretty firm cap on the amount a team can spend on its players each year, and most of the money needed to do that comes from shared revenues from things such as television contracts. For example, no team could spend more than $118 million last year, and there was also a floor.

    That’s made for a relatively level playing field and made it easier for teams like my Green Bay Packers in a small town be able to compete with the big city boys. Now, experts will tell you that playing field has begun to tilt in recent years, but compared to baseball it’s still pretty even.

    In baseball, the difference between what teams can — and choose to — spend on their players is stark. Check out the 2008 payrolls. Last year, for example, the Yankees spent $209 million, while the Marlins spent just less than $22 million.

    This is why baseball teams argued that they needed new ballparks — to remain competitive. The Chargers have made a similar argument here, but football’s economics provide much less backup for that argument than baseball’s.

    So, if football’s salary cap does go away, as Gupta’s piece explored, the economics of football would shift, as could team’s stadium arguments.

    Hence, this from football finance expert Andrew Brandt:

    But over the long term, he said, teams that bring in more revenue would have “more resources to attract top players and football could look more like baseball.”

  • Finally, this Gupta post detailing the amount of pension payments for certain city employees and elected officials grabbed me. Why? A number of the names in the list took part in the decisions that led to the city’s pension problems — boosting benefits while starving the fund of contributions.

    One name in particular stood out: Former City Attorney Casey Gwinn’s annual pension is $94,988. (He worked in the City Attorney’s Office before being elected to the top post twice.) Under Gwinn’s watch, the City Council approved deals to increase the benefits of employees and elected officials that have been repeatedly challenged in court.

    Former Assistant City Manager Bruce Herring, who many inside City Hall described as the architect of the infamous 2002 pension deal, was one of the top pension earners, drawing $157,715. (Herring’s new employer is now in hot water after this investigation by the Union-Tribune.) And former Retirement Administrator Lawrence Grissom, who’s facing criminal charges, is drawing $114,237 a year.

And don’t forget, if you’re reading this post in This Just in, head over to my personal blog, The Clipboard, to comment on it and keep the conversation going.

ANDREW DONOHUE

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