Mayor Jerry Sanders and friends made a big to-do last Thursday in announcing to the public Sanders' two ballot proposals aimed at "reforming" City Hall-one giving voters the power to approve pension-benefit increases for city employees, the other giving the mayor greater power to hire private firms to perform services now performed by city employees.
There was a spiffy backdrop for the TV cameras that contained lots of reform-campaign-style buzzwords. And there were 32 well-groomed men and women backing the mayor up with some moral support, following up the financial support they gave him during the campaign. The gang, which the mayor called "business and community leaders," was composed of representatives of the private-business establishment, the real-estate industry, a Republican Party group, an anti-government think thank, an anti-tax group, nine volunteers from the Sanders for Mayor campaign, City Councilmembers Brian Maienschein and Kevin Faulconer and, interestingly, City Attorney Mike Aguirre. (The city attorney's presence smelled of a deal with Sanders-Aguirre endorses the anti-union reforms in exchange for Sanders' blessing of Aguirre's quest to take over legal representation of the retirement system-but Aguirre swears there was no deal.)
So, with the intriguing exception of Aguirre, we'd say they were leaders from one side of the community-the Republican, anti-union side.
The political pendulum swings wildly, doesn't it? The unions have had it pretty well here in recent years, part of a liberal shift that we regard as positive overall. But San Diegans voted in a mayoral candidate who ran an unapologetically anti-union campaign and replaced a fallen union-friendly Democratic City Council member (Mike Zucchet) with a Republican (Faulconer) who skipped merrily alongside the Sanders bandwagon.
It seems the unions' only hope is for voters to rebel against San Diego's daily newspaper's frothing editorial board, which can be counted on to rant hysterically about the "politically powerful" unions when supporting anti-union proposals but never seems to mention the politically powerful private-business interests when spewing orgasmic about pro-business-and-development policies. The hypocrisy is thick, brothers and sisters.
Indeed, the unions are taking it on the chin these days. Sadly, their rank-and-file members will suffer, thanks to a combination of the bad policy leadership of the City Council, the incompetent management of City Hall's top bureaucrats and the self-interest of their union leadership. They'd be a hell of a lot better off had city leaders, pension-fund trustees and union bosses not conspired to grant pension benefits that tax-averse, revenue-poor San Diego could not afford.
On their face, the mayor's two ballot proposals essentially say to the voters that City Hall is inept and untrustworthy-too incompetent to provide public services at a reasonable cost and too corrupt to set pension benefits at financially sustainable levels.
When you get down to it, the pension-benefits measure is relatively benign, but it's an unnecessary waste of time and money. It's all for show. Voters will be asked to sign off on new benefits packages that have already been agreed to by the city and the unions. The mayor says voters can check their work by studying an actuary's report on the health of the retirement system. Right.
We have much bigger problems with the mayor's "managed competition" idea, which is a nice name for privatizing government services. There's not much fine print accompanying this one, and what little detail there is doesn't give us confidence that city workers will be competing on a level field. What we see is more people being paid less money, having less access to adequate healthcare and looking forward to retirement insecurity. Maybe it'll save the city money in the short run, but we don't like the long-term, big-picture consequences. And that's a huge maybe-we've seen no analysis of the cost of administering an expanded contracting operation and monitoring contractor compliance with city rules. The city's precarious financial condition doesn't bode well for having enough staff to ensure that everyone's playing fair. The city's Rules Committee should stall this proposal at least until there's an honest, detailed analysis of its administrative costs and compliance-monitoring safeguards.
Privatization is indicative of an ideological shift, and its emphasis on competitive low-balling will likely lead to a race to the bottom: shoddy service performed by underpaid, overworked employees of profit-driven companies. It'd be nice to have a long-overdue conversation about how much an effective, responsive local government really costs and whether or not San Diego charges its citizens enough money to provide adequate services, but we don't see the anti-government, anti-tax zealots inside and outside of City Hall allowing that to happen.