Heading down the home stretch of City Hall's budget-morass solve-a-thon, there's the sense that soon the Magic Budget Fairy will appear.
For those uninitiated in the spectacle that is the Magic Budget Fairy, a brief explanation: Seemingly every year, right about this time, the City Council gets close to pulling its collective hair out over painful budget cuts while pleading with the city manager to find additional means to plug those pesky holes in the coming year's budget, which kicks in July 1.
This year has been especially painful, with frustration ruling the day over cuts in library hours, city pool use and numerous maintenance jobs involving everything from parks to city streets.
Now comes the Fairy part. City Manager Mike Uberuaga, in the role of the winged one, has now fluttered down before the council with word from the invisible lords of budgetary matters. Once again at the 11th hour, Magic Budget Fairy pixie dust wafts through the room over speculation that the city manager will today have new, more encouraging news about the city's budget woes.
While finding more dough sounds like a good thing, not everyone in the Emerald City finds relief in the process.
“The manager's coming in with a revised budget,” snorts Councilmember Donna Frye. “They're doing the ‘fun' game again. They do this every year, and-ugh!-it drives me nuts!”
Just how much money Uberuaga will find was anybody's guess as we headed to press, but apparently the Magic Fairy was seen batting its wings in the vicinity of the city's sales tax figures, suggesting that projections for the coming year might be on the rise.
The wind caused by the wings was so stiff, however, that it prompted Frye to back off Monday on final approval of the city's budget for the much-battered Parks and Recreation Department, which is targeted with some of the toughest budget cuts in recent years. She'd rather wait to see what the Fairy brings.
“No, I'm sure they'll revise [revenues] upward, and all of a sudden they're going to find the money,” said the fairy watcher, who last weekend led a rally at Mission Bay Park that drew more than 100 citizens who protested the proposed park-and-rec budget cuts. “Mark my words. It's a standard game that's played every year. [Former mayor] Susan Golding used to do it all the time, and they're doing it again.”
It's often said that hacking out a government budget is as gut-churning as sausage making, and this year has proven no different. Just this week, the council looked on as maintenance workers from Qualcomm Stadium pleaded for their jobs, many of which offer no benefits and little hope of advancement. In that case, stadium officials had attempted to bounce the workers out of city jobs with the promise that they would be re-hired by a private contractor who would take over the city's role.
The proposal landed with a distinctive thud. Several council members, Charles Lewis included, noted that they would have been hard-pressed to support Prop. C, the ballpark initiative, in 1998 had they known that jobs were at stake. Unions representing these workers are now lathered up over the matter, which can't be good for long-term relations between employees and employer.
Councilmember Michael Zucchet, seemingly back in sharp-tongued, ornery stride, wondered aloud if insanity had indeed overtaken a budget process that promotes such a fire/re-hire protocol. He also bristled when Mayor 1Goal's personal Jack Russell terrier, Councilmember Jim Madaffer, attempted to question Zucchet's maturity level when it comes to budget deliberations. Madaffer, who last had an original idea sometime during the Stone Age (when he unsuccessfully advocated square tires for their road grippage), has publicly acknowledged in recent weeks his confusion in distinguishing between strippers and pantomime artists, so maybe Mad Dog just found himself in yet another Midol moment. Who knows?
Poof... story gone
One insider said the media swirl gathered such steam that “you would have thought it was as important as another attack on Pearl Harbor.”
What was the furor about? Speculation that the Chargers may have been presumptive in pulling the so-called trigger to renegotiate its controversial lease with the city. KNSD-TV reported that the Chargers were sticking to their March pronouncement that it had exceeded the triggering financial threshold by more than $4 million, but the report noted that the city remained eerily silent on the issue.
At press time, it remained quiet-almost too quiet. Unfortunately, such silence is typically shattered by the chorus of speculative chatter. Questions arise: Has the city's auditing folks determined whether the Chargers legitimately triggered in March? If so, when was that determination made? Did anyone-Mayor 1Goal, for example-know what the auditor knew prior to the council's May 20 decision to extend negotiations another three months?
If the Chargers improperly pulled the trigger, the insider asks, “Is Mayor 1Goal continuing a management strategy of keeping issues in the dark in hopes they remain non-controversial, perhaps even self-solving?”
We hope that's not the case, seeing how far beyond the magic-fairy scenario that would take us.