Wednesday, June 15, 2011

San Jose Approves an All-Cuts Budget

It's been lost in the budget wrangling going on in Sacramento, but the city of San Jose took the first big step toward righting its listing finances yesterday. On a 7-4 vote, and after more than four hours of debate, the City Council approved Mayor Chuck Reed's tough proposal to close the city's $115 million budget shortfall. As a result, the third-largest city in California will see its total budget shrink by $300 million dollars, with its general fund budget tumbling 14% down to $819 million. Ultimately, 500 more city employees will be laid off.

Of course, $39 million in savings come in the form of concessions from the police department, which will nevertheless be forced to lay off 180 people, including 100 officers, as a result of the deal. Given that San Jose has seen an abnormally high rate of homicides this year, and that its gang problems recently got national attention, much of the debate at yesterday's meeting concerned the implications for public safety. Councilman Pete Constant, who cast one of the "no" votes against Reed, had suggested a plan to save police jobs by cutting library spending and office costs. Yet this proposal and others were unable to gain majority support on the Council. Other key points of the budget deal include a 10% pay cut for all city employees, closing branch libraries for a half-day each week, closing community centers for four more hours each week, outsourcing graffiti cleaning, and exploring the sale of Rancho del Pueblo golf course.

The budget behind him, Reed will now turn to his more controversial effort at curbing the city's pension costs: a ballot measure that would directly pension benefits for current and future city employees. Given that the state of Wisconsin has finally determined that union contracts don't constitute a suicide pact, it would appear that the momentum is with him.

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