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In an op-ed this week, Transparent California Director Robert Fellner wrote that he’s tired of hearing officials blame the recession for the county pension crisis.

“While some blame the stock market crash of 2008-09, the real culprit was an explosive growth in the size of promised pension benefits, and the flawed accounting practices that encouraged such recklessness,” he wrote.

It’s an excuse that’s beginning to sound quite familiar.

When San Diego Unified recently presented its multibillion-dollar bond pitch to the board of trustees, it emphasized “State budget cuts in education forced the District to defer repairs.”

Since the state is putting more money toward education than ever, we asked the district: What budget cuts are you talking about?

It turns out, they meant cuts from almost a decade ago, prompted by the recession.

“General fund revenues did drop dramatically in 2010 and reached a low of $1.03 billion in 2013,” Ashly McGlone reported. “They remained below 2008 levels until 2015, when revenues rose above $1.2 billion. Since then, revenues have climbed even higher, topping $1.3 billion in 2018. They are expected to reach $1.33 billion in 2019, district financial records approved Tuesday show.”

And back when Andrew Keatts first started digging into problems at SANDAG and the massive revenue shortfall it was facing as a result of a flawed forecast, that agency too largely blamed issues on the recession — yet multiple experts told us there was reason to be wary of that claim.

SANDAG claims the primary reason for its lagging revenue is the Great Recession.

Other experts aren’t so sure. …

Bill Glasgall, director of the state and local program at the Volcker Alliance, a foundation focused on improving the performance of government at all levels, said he’s skeptical that the shortfall should be primarily attributed to the recession.

“In general, the recession is fading in our rearview mirror,” he said. “But sales tax growth in general has been positive but weak. It’s basically flat. The driver for that weak sales tax growth is internet sales and low gas prices, and nobody projected this.”

Certainly the recession had enormous impacts of the economy, some of which are still being felt today. But it’s a good reminder for the public and for journalists not to take every claim that a disappointing result is solely the fault of the recession and couldn’t possibly be anticipated, planned for or the fault of actual decision-makers.

What VOSD Learned This Week

It looks like a measure to reform countywide elections will appear on the November ballot. Republican lawmakers in Sacramento are not very happy that they keep being asked to deal with this local election maneuvering. On the podcast, we walked through the strange twists and turns that got us here.

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Now that the convention center ballot measure is dead, there are two big questions as to what happens next. One of those questions is whether expanding the Convention Center along the waterfront will even be possible going forward – and Scott Lewis is here to tell you to get over that idea and move on.

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The airport has quietly moved on from the Lindbergh Field nickname, and the large mural of Charles Lindbergh that used to adorn a commuter terminal is gone. Does that mean the airport is backing away from the aviation hero, who also happened to espouse racist and anti-Semitic views? Not at all, Kinsee Morlan found out – but the airport won’t address his past either.

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It’s easy to convince yourself that as a city-dweller, you’re insulated from the fire risks facing folks who live in the backcountry. But the truth is San Diego’s topography means an urban wildfire is possible.

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For now, a measure to reform countywide elections will appear on the November ballot. Republican lawmakers in Sacramento are not very happy that they keep being asked to deal with this local election maneuvering. On the podcast, we walked through the strange twists and turns that got us here.

What I’m Reading

Line of the Week

“I cannot go on to describe a yellow glass ‘banana gun’ with a bucking glass monkey riding it that sells for $33,333 at Higher Standards without noting that thousands remain imprisoned for marijuana possession.” – And that’s how you appropriately balance writing on a frothy subject like a high-end marijuana accessory boutique in New York City while still keeping it real.

Sara Libby

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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