SDUT: Falconer budget getting bipartisan praise for infrastructure spending, lack of cuts to key areas

April 12, 2018 – SDUT – David Garrick reports – The proposed budget that Republican Mayor Kevin Faulconer unveiled on Thursday is receiving bipartisan praise for sharply boosting infrastructure spending and avoiding deep cuts to neighborhood services despite funding challenges.

Bry said at a Mission Hills press conference announcing the budget that the council will thoroughly examine the proposed $1.45 billion spending plan before a final version is adopted on June 11.

“My council colleagues and I are eager to review this budget with a fine-toothed comb,” she said.

Republican Councilwoman Lorie Zapf of Bay Ho praised Faulconer for avoiding cuts that affect San Diego’s neighborhoods, despite funding shortfalls caused by slowing revenue growth and recent pay raises given to city employees.

She said the plan, which would cover the budget year that begins July 1, is in stark contrast to budgets she helped negotiate in 2009, 2010 and 2011 that contained deep cuts to cherished programs.

“It was more like angry mobs because we were having, unfortunately, budget cuts,” said Zapf, recalling that people were shocked to find libraries and municipal pools closed during hours when they had previously been open.

The bipartisan praise makes a repeat unlikely of last year’s contentious budget negotiations, when the council’s 5-4 Democratic majority made significant changes only to have Faulconer reverse many of them with his line-item veto.

Advocates for the city’s landmark climate action plan on Thursday had a more tempered reaction to the new budget, saying it’s hard to evaluate the adequacy of the $151 million Faulconer’s staff says he has earmarked for the plan.

“The city has not created a long-term analysis of what we need to reach climate action plan goals,” said Nicole Capretz, executive director of the Climate Action Campaign, by text message. “The only measure we have now is the progress we’ve made toward the goals, and we have a long way to go before we offer true mobility options and reach 100 percent renewables.”

Council President Myrtle Cole of southeastern San Diego, a Democrat, praised Faulconer for prioritizing low-income neighborhoods with services they rely on, such as libraries and recreation centers, and the infrastructure they lack, such as sidewalks and quality roads.

Faulconer is proposing a record $553 million capital improvement budget, a spike from $445 million last year and triple the $179 million the city spent five years ago.

It would provide many millions for street repair, sidewalks, parks projects and building upgrades, including some in Balboa Park.

Police Chief David Nisleit said at Faulconer’s news conference that the budget will help him fill 200 police officer vacancies because it includes $28.3 million to cover the first phase of pay hikes that will eventually reach 30 percent for officers.

“That will be a real game changer,” Nisleit said.

Nisleit also praised $500,000 in the budget to fund the Police Department’s most aggressive marketing campaign in many years.

“That will really allow us to reach out and attract the very best and very brightest San Diegans,” he said.

The local arts community, which staged aggressive protests last spring when facing a 31 percent program cut, is slated for a reduction of only 2 percent in Faulconer’s proposed budget – from $14.6 million to $14.5 million.

Joyce Gattas, an arts dean at San Diego State University and former head of the city’s Commission on Arts and Culture, said the cut seems reasonable.

“Given the difficult decisions that Mayor Faulconer had to make, I want to thank him for his support,” she said. “It is definitely in line with the mayor’s directive for all departments to tighten their belts.”

That effort to rein in spending yielded $14.1 million in total savings that helped Faulconer, along with $28 million in reserves and excess cash from the ongoing budget year, balance the budget without deeper cuts.

The $14.1 million in cuts includes the elimination of 30 positions, but there would only be five employees laid off because many of the jobs remain unfilled.

Spending increases in the new budget include homelessness, for which Faulconer proposes $7.9 million to cover continuing operation of recently opened bridge shelters, a new transitional storage center, a new intake center and other programs.

The budget also proposes increasing annual spending to $4.4 million on an illegal dumping crackdown that Faulconer calls CleanSD.

The city’s independent budget analyst, who works for the council, is scheduled to release a comprehensive analysis of the mayor’s proposed spending plan on April 27.

That will be followed by all-day public hearings on proposals for each city department. The council has scheduled those from May 2 to 4 and May 7 to 9, and then a May 14 evening council meeting on the entire budget.

Faulconer is expected to release revisions to his proposal in May based on new revenue estimates.

Read the full report here.

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