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My e-mail box is full of mostly productive suggestions and feedback so let’s get to it.
First, an important point: I have no illusion that this is the last, best and final answer to our city’s fiscal challenges this year. I wanted this to be a point at which we could start a new, post-bitterness discussion and begin to imagine a compromise.
This is why I’m most excited about the comments from readers who appreciate the attempt at the compromise but aren’t certain about specific points. For instance, reader Elmer Walker put this comment up:
I agree with most of your proposal. My disagreement is with the retirement age being 55. City employees should have their normal retirement age the same as Social Security, which is now 66 and increasing. The City should also not contribute to the employees 401K.
There we go! This is a true give-and-take discussion. Perhaps dropping the retirement age is not the best feature of the reform package. I still think it is, but Walker is looking at this sincerely and offering an alternative. This is how we make progress.
Perhaps taxpayers can come to the table with more or different revenue opportunities. Perhaps employees are willing to give up something else in exchange. Let’s keep talking.
A longtime reader and city employee sent me a long, very thoughtful and moving e-mail this morning.
Here’s what she said:
In a nutshell, do you know how it feels to have the Mayor trying to take care of a $54 million shortfall on the backs of employees alone? It’s pretty crummy. Plus we have lost positions and have the threat of losing more. Those of remaining are struggling to get all the work done.
This is precisely why I’m asking that we not solve the entire shortfall on the backs of employees. I think we need to have a compromise. One of the most frustrating things about some of the feedback I’ve gotten from city employees is the sense that something is being done to them — that they are the only victims of what’s happening. Every resident is a victim, too. They are getting less services or protection from their government — from the body they have created to provide them with water, parks, libraries, public safety and more.
We’re in a crisis of historical proportions. In 40 years, we’ll talk about what this was like. What I’m saying is that now is the time for us to realize we’re in this together and for taxpayers and city workers to come to the table offering to do their part. In this economy, jobs are being lost by the droves. If we could manage to protect most if not all the city’s services and benefits and raise our fees in a palatable way at the same time, I don’t know how you, as a city employee, or resident, or business leader could think this was a failure.
Another reader sent in this good e-mail:
… in your comments you don’t include the role of the private sector, e.g., the Chargers, the Padres, and the visitor industry, in declaring open season on the public purse. …
In short, you didn’t go into the fact that over the last 15 years or so the “leadership” in this community led the public sector to believe that public revenues not only were there for the taking but that no objections would be made to salary and benefit proposals designed accordingly.
In talking about the reasons why taxpayers are justifiably frustrated, I did neglect to mention the subsidies and giveaways to sports teams, visiting political conventions and other deals that got out of hand.
Perhaps this is another area where the business community can come to the table and pledge never again to slip massive taxpayer giveaways into broader plans that either misrepresent or hide the true cost. If we want new convention centers, new stadiums, new central libraries, it is incumbent that we all understand the cost, share the numbers and decide where the new money is going to come to pay for them (or what we’re going to stop doing in order to afford it).
Finally, there is another theme that keeps coming up in the e-mails from frustrated city employees: They have been offered deals in the past — tradeoffs. Employees have said they remember being told years ago that if they only did this or that now, they will get this or that in the future. Then they find themselves being the targets of opportunistic politicians ever willing to demonize them and talk about their greed.
What can I say about this? It is time for the city’s leadership to collectively announce that the 1990s are over both chronologically and philosophically. The era of doing deals to get by in the short term and either hide or put of the pain for another day has to be over.
Like the president said, our day of reckoning has arrived.
We can fight each other, and cast blame and bring up all the pain of the ugly dealings of the past. It’s necessary because we all need to collectively understand that frustrations on all sides are legitimate and not fabricated.
But then we have to move on, come to the table and figure out how we’re going to keep the city working.