Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of 2009 – NOT the End of the Pain

The final hours of 2009 are ticking down and none too soon as far as I am concerned. Dwelling on the events of this past year will simply cause the removal of even more enamel from my teeth and renewed tension to my mandible. Many contemplate resolutions for a new year. By March, these resolutions will be gone from memory and people will revert to the comfort of the past. Politicians will use this time to pontificate and proselytize their agenda, disguised as "New Year's Resolutions." The first to hit the air waves is none other than the "little rube."

Disguised as an "Opinion" piece in the Union Tribune; "Resolutions for San Diego City Hall" the little rube continues his attempt to sell the taxpayer on his vision for policies, "that help create jobs, a truly balanced budget, reductions in unfunded pension and health obligations, and improvements in the water rate structure." The little rube said, "I'd like to suggest four self-improvement resolutions for my fellow city leaders and I to focus on in 2010."

The first of four resolutions; jobs friendly policies that promote putting San Diegans back to work. The little rube boasted of "holding a 'small-business' summit where he compiled a laundry list of examples where city government has been a hindrance rather than a help to job creation." Does the label "Hypocrite" ring true to anyone else? This carpet bagging, spin master, has gone out of his way to ensure the un-employment lines in San Diego continue to grow. His goal is to eliminate as many positions within the city as possible so he can grease the way for his cronies in the name of "Managed Competition." If you think for one second, his resolution of "jobs friendly policies" is altruistic, I would suggest you wake up and smell the coffee. The little rube continues to rail against raising revenue, demanding City leaders reject tax and fee increases, so he can ensure the city continues to face budget deficits. He can then continue to blame employees and sway the taxpayers to eliminate pension and retiree health benefits earned over the past thirty years.

The second resolution; a real balanced city budget, is the little rube's continued cry for managed competition in the name of "structural change." This is the where the spin machine kicks into high speed. The 15 percent to 25 percent cost savings the little rube says will be achieved through managed competition is simply; NOT REALISTIC. Government was not set up, nor is it in the business of "making" a profit. The only part of the little rube's continued diatribe related to this issue I will agree with is the need to conduct a performance audit and ensure the benchmark for performance meets private sector performances for all city services. This not only makes sense but is something good government does as a routine. Many of these audits have been completed and structural changes have already been implemented. When managed competition is employed, minimal savings is realized in the short term, and then experience has shown the companies providing the services realize the need to turn a profit and begin to make changes to meet this goal. The result of this selling of government services to the lowest bidder will be higher cost to the taxpayer and inadequate service in the long term.

The third of the little rube's New Year's resolutions; pension, health benefits reform, is buoyed by his playing loose and free with reality and facts. The numbers this pathetic politician uses to inflame taxpayers is nothing but short of criminal. His use of numbers, facts and spin have created a hysteria and hatred toward city employees and their wages and benefits that are all part of a larger scheme. The little rube uses facts and figures out of context to fit his argument and bolster his false claims. An example is his statement, "Over the years, city leaders granted employees generous pension packages and free taxpayer-funded health care coverage for life." His omission of how the retiree health care benefits came to be is egregious. He refuses to acknowledge the deal Pete Wilson put together to save the city money in 1981, to have employees withdraw from Social Security/Medicare with the agreement of providing city sponsored retiree health care insurance. The City saved money and in theory used the savings to provide these promised benefits.

2010 should be the year city leaders and employees join together and craft a solution to the pension and retiree health care insurance problem. Creating a tiered plan for retiree health care insurance for pre 1986 employees, honoring the decade's old agreement, is imperative to doing what is right. This should, at a minimum, include fully paid medical care insurance for those employees hired before 1986 who lack sufficient quarters to participate in Medicare. Workers who are eligible for Medicare should be provided retiree health care insurance until such time as eligible for this benefit. Working together to create solutions for long term retiree health care insurance, include implementing a shared retiree medical trust for funding adequate benefits is a must. Developing a sustainable Defined Benefit Retirement for Safety members and General members will require sacrifice. Recognizing the gains earned over the past decades, at this time, are not sustainable, we must roll back the retirement of workers. To do this fairly and with minimal impact on the quality of life for the city's employees; a tiered system need be explored for retirement. Participants with less than ten years of service (Safety and General hired after 2000) should be considered for a reduction to the benefit received at retirement which might include; an increase to the age of retirement (53 years for Safety; 62 years for General); a maximum benefit of 2.5% per year of service for the first 20 years and 2.75% for the remaining years of service, with a maximum benefit of 85 percent of the highest one year for Safety employees; and 2% per year of service for the first 25 years and 2.25% per year for the remaining years of service, with a maximum benefit of 85 percent of the highest three years for General employees. Employees and the City will contribute an additional one percent to retirement until the funding level rises above 90%; elected office holders will not be eligible to participate in the City's Retirement program but can participate in a City Matching 401K program up to a six percent match of contribution. DROP should be made available to ALL Safety Members who provide a minimum of 25 years of actual service upon retirement.

The suggestions above will no doubt be met with resistance from both sides. The City will say the changes do not go far enough and employees will say they go too far. I am not advocating these suggestions are the fix all, end all to the City's fiscal problems. I am simply offering suggestions to begin the dialog for obtaining sustainable and realistic retirement benefits for all employees that are acceptable to the taxpayer without throwing the baby out with the bath water.

The forth of the little rube's resolutions; reform water rates, is one that lacks detail or vision. Simply showing resolve to create a new water rate structure to provide "financial incentives" to those who conserve is a shallow approach to a critical problem. Pursuing a secure long term water supply has been a dismal failure, due to a lack of vision and action by our elected officials. Suggesting the city expands hookups to recycled water for irrigation without the implementation of the "toilet to tap" program will not provide sufficient increases to meet the needs of our children. Working aggressively to move desalination forward and seeking federal support for this endeavor is paramount.

The little rube actually closes his piece with some truth; "As with any effort to keep faithful to a new year's resolution, city leaders will need someone to act as a constant coach and conscience – and that's where the public comes in." The taxpayer needs to become involved and hold city leaders accountable for their actions or lack thereof. To sit idly by while the city and its employees are decimated is not an option. With the New Year upon us, we need to make a resolution of our own to get involved and make a difference. We must educate the taxpayer to the realities of what we can safely provide and inform them of our true benefits. We can no longer allow the little rube and others to spin reality without providing context and honest, true facts disputing their lies.

I wish to thank all those who offered support to me and my family during 2009. Your prayers and words carried us through the days when we felt so helpless. To those who retired in 2009, after sacrificing countless years of your lives, to protect the citizens of San Diego, I want to thank you for all you gave. My hope is for a better year, filled with good health, joy and love. As we enter 2010, I will leave you with a quote I read this evening on Charles Kindred's Facebook;"We find no real satisfaction or happiness in life without obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve" Maxwell Maltz.

We have many obstacles to conquer and goals to achieve in 2010. The real satisfaction and happiness in our lives are our responsibility and cannot be left to others to provide.

Happy New Year Everyone!!!