Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's only money -- or is it?

I’ve been chastised for being too hard on San Diego’s elite.  I suggested that they take care of business by adhering to a code of silence.  (By the way, if you have a better term than “elite” to describe the wealthy, powerful, and politically influential people in our city, please let me know.)  I suggested that the elites are not stepping up to the plate on the issue of the city's fiscal crisis.

But whoops.  I see in yesterday’s newspaper that a task force of select local business leaders let the cat out of the bag and declared that San Diego has a fiscal crisis.  The “Citizen’s Fiscal Sustainability Task Force” report states that the city’s upcoming budget deficit is a deafening $130M.  Then their report  hurls some tough-sounding recommendations in the direction of the City Council that dazzle for a minute before  ricocheting like the rat-a-tat-tat of a fizzling firecracker.

The stated goal of the task force is commendable, no different from yours or mine. They, like us, want to “return San Diego to a position of financial stability.”  But kumbaya comes to a screeching halt with their list of “tradeoffs required to accomplish this critical task.”
What’s on this list?  Pretty much what you'd predict, given the business-oriented identity of this task force: job elimination; wage cuts; substituting volunteers for paid city workers; transfer of public services like trash collection and the city library system to private entrepreneurs; reducing the protective role of the civil service system…

Sadly, there are no real surprises here.  Over the years, similar faces on similar task forces promoted similar solutions: tighten the screws on public employees, loosen regulations, privatize public services.
There's no reliable evidence that these measures are effective in saving the city money, so why target them?  Whose interests would be served by proposals to sell off public assets, privatize municipal facilities, outsource city services, and reduce oversight?  Yes, it's all about money, but who are the winners in this kind of setup? 

It could have been different this time.  Only a year and a half ago, the Citizen’s Fiscal Sustainability Task Force candidly expressed the point of view that municipal bankruptcy might be option as we try to resolve the city’s fiscal crisis.
The San Diego County Grand Jury was saying the same thing.  The San Diego Taxpayers Association entertained the subject at their municipal bankruptcy forum.  As did the League of Women Voters.  The word was getting out that municipal bankruptcy might be our only chance to get everyone to negotiate at the same table at the same time without dismantling the city in the process.
Then someone pulled the plug.

I stick to my guns: there IS a gentleman’s agreement among San Diego’s elite to remain mute. Read the latest task force report -- not a word about the bankruptcy option.  Not even a footnote explaining where, why, or how it disappeared.  Why isn’t it on the table for consideration, along with other remedies?  
Somebody’s fingers got rapped.  By whom?  Silence…