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Along with the release of its five-year financial forecast and the $179 million budget deficit it revealed, the city of San Diego also listed budget deficits for other cities in California.
The city said San Jose was facing a $169 million shortfall. In Los Angeles, the number was $403 million. San Francisco’s was $750 million. At least one article used those numbers in reporting on San Diego’s budget.
But when I checked the deficits, two of them are substantially overstated.
The best estimate for San Jose’s budget deficit for next year is $91.5 million, according to Margaret McCahan, San Jose’s deputy budget director. I told her what San Diego had reported San Jose’s deficit to be.
“We do have a deficit, but it’s not that large,” McCahan said.
McCahan surmised that San Diego mistakenly had added last year’s deficit in San Jose to this year’s projection.
That’s what happened. San Diego used this document, dated May 1, to determine San Jose’s figure. On page five, it lists San Jose’s cumulative deficit as $168.8 million through next fiscal year. But that number didn’t reflect that San Jose had closed a $77.5 million gap when it finalized its current budget.
To determine San Francisco’s deficit, San Diego relied on this April article in the San Francisco Chronicle. But San Diego misread the story. The article refers to this document, which shows the fiscal year 2011 deficit to be $615 million. The $746 million figure is for the following year.
I attempted contacting San Francisco officials for clarification today, but no one got back to me. Presumably, there’s a more recent estimate for San Francisco’s 2011 deficit than last March, especially after the city closed the current year’s budget gap.
As an aside, the city used this article from last month as its source for Los Angeles’ deficit. I tried contacting officials in Los Angeles but received no response from them, either.
I called Rachel Laing in the mayor’s office to ask what was up.
Laing said that she was responsible for the numbers and was going to look into what I had found. Regardless, she said, the numbers still make her point: that the national economy is affecting budgets throughout California.
“The point is I was trying to give context to our budget problem,” Laing said. “San Diego has obviously had huge financial problems in the past. I was trying to make clear that this problem is not exclusive to San Diego now. That’s a fact the public needs to know.”
Since we’re making comparisons, let’s add a couple more.
San Diego’s deficit of $179 million is 16 percent of its $1.1 billion general fund budget. Using the accurate numbers for San Jose, its $91.5 million deficit is 9 percent of its $984 million budget. For San Francisco, a $615 million deficit is 20 percent of its $3.1 billion budget. It should be noted — as Mayor Jerry Sanders did in a press conference on yesterday — that San Francisco is both a city and a county, which makes its budget situation vastly different.