Thursday, June 11, 2009 | The dustup between grad student Vlad Kogan and councilman Carl DeMaio is interesting, but they both deal with the wrong question. At this time, we are facing a huge decrease in revenues, including an almost sure grab by the state of funds the city has counted on in it’s budget plan. It’s past time to debate whether we are under taxed or wasting money; the question right now is this: How can the city balance it’s budget without decimating vital services?

The answer is obvious: You have to get people off the payroll, NOW! No government agency is any good at this, because government simply grows each year, regardless of what they tell the public. We hear about all the “positions” that have been eliminated, but most of this is cancellation of unfilled requests for additional staff, plus not replacing a few people who quit. No one actually gets laid off, and it seems the highest priority in the city is stable employment for city workers, regardless of what’s happening in the economy.

We must assess what’s essential, and eliminate the rest, or at least drastically reduce it. Here’s my specific list, for starters, with rationale:

1. Cut the pension administration staff by 50% (I’ve managed pension plans, and this operation is a total boondoggle, which currently costs more than we spend on libraries to support it).

2. Cut the support staff for the San Diego city council by 50% (That puts us in line with Phoenix, a much bigger city with the same number of council districts).

3. Reduce the public relations staff by 50%. That would leave the mayor with only three “spokespersons” and the rest of the city staff with about eight (Newsmakers should speak to the media directly, not through flacks who exist to provide deniability when “spin” backfires).

4. Combine the three separate “redevelopment” organizations into one and reduce the management staff accordingly (Redevelopment of downtown is essentially complete, and these agencies now spent a good share of their time lobbying for new projects like an expanded convention center and a new city hall, to keep their developer buddies in yachts).

5. Make the “Arts and Culture Commission” a volunteer organization and cut the contributions budget at least 50% (There are lots of civic minded arts lovers who could do a fine job, and we are still supporting non-profits like the zoo and the Old Globe Theater whose balance sheets are a lot healthier than the city’s).

6. Get out of the business of running sports stadiums, airports, golf courses and cemeteries (Sell them, or at least turn them over to someone who can run them at a profit).

7. Go through the organization structure of every major department and eliminate at least one layer of management (The private sector did this decades ago, and this year one of the city unions made this recommendation, with very specific examples. It was met with blank stares).

OK, tell me, what services to the general public have I proposed cutting? Do you ever hear about ideas like this when the budget gets tight, or do you hear instead about firefighters and cops, closing rec centers and libraries, plus being “under taxed”? The first step in solving the city’s financial problems is to get bodies off the payroll.

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