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San Diego’s budget includes best of bad options

18 July 2010 No Comment

By Helen Kaiao Chang

See original story on SDNN

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Here’s the question and answer for today.

Would you rather have:

A. A job with a lower salary
B. No job at all?

That’s the choice that City of San Diego employees face, as the shrinking budget requires cuts all around.

As Mayor Jerry Sanders said during his press conference on Monday, his administration had the option of laying off workers or asking for salary cuts across the board. Terminating 875 government employees would save the city $69 million annually, said Mary Lewis, CFO for the office of the mayor, at the same event.

The problem with job cuts is that it puts people out on the streets, at a time when there are few jobs to be found. The risk is of higher social instability, which has other costs in terms of unemployment wages, weakened families, and more possibility for crime.

Job cuts also demoralize existing staff. Who will be cut next? Who will do the extra work previously done by those who were axed?

By proposing a 6 percent salary cut for all city employees, starting with himself, the Mayor is choosing the best of bad options.

“We can ask all employees to reduce compensation by roughly 6 percent, or we can achieve the same amount of savings by laying off hundreds of employees and cutting the services they provide,” said Sanders, in a speech unveiling his proposal Tuesday. “To me, the choice is clear.”

The unions argue that the cuts are not fair.

“Across the board pay cuts do not create a level playing field,” said Joan Raymond, president of the AFSCME Local 127, which represents blue-collar workers at the City of San Diego, in a press statement on Tuesday. “Cutting take home pay by $200 a month has a more drastic impact on a custodian than a deputy director.”

Which yes, is true, but losing your job has an even more drastic impact than taking a $200 pay cut. When the cuts are made using a flat percentage, everyone is treated fairly. Everyone has to tighten their belts, but at least everyone can still perform services and keep the city functioning.

As Sanders said, “We want to protect our way of life, not degrade it.”

By working with city leaders to make it through the hard times, city employees will be a stronger position to negotiate higher salaries when times are better.

Meanwhile, the city’s leaders needs to remember the sacrifices made. When pay cuts are taken by flat percentages, so should salary raises, property taxes and other fees, when the economic picture improves.

It is never easy to cut budgets. But it’s something we all need to be open to in this tough economy – as individuals, businesses, cities and as a country.

Follow Helen on Twitter @HelenChang.

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