Cut, Chop, Hack or Slash? What to Do with the Budget?

Mayor Chuck Reed has a big problem ahead of him. San Jose is faced with a $100 million shortfall, which means the city is going to have to eviscerate its budget. To achieve that end, he’s planning a budget study session for next week.

So what will end up on the chopping block? Library hours could be the first to suffer, followed by neighborhood centers. Other suggestions include eliminating the SJPD’s Mounted Unit, though the police are already up in arms about that. He could go ahead with a 5 percent cut in pay and benefits for city employees, but then he would face the wrath of the unions, which are already upset about layoffs and compulsory furloughs.

One thing is certain—city officials will have to be creative. After all, its starting to seem increasingly likely that they’ll have to do the same thing again next year.
Read More at KCBS.



  1. “One thing is for certain…” – actually, two things are for certain, the other being that services to be cut will be highly visible and directly affect the residents. 

    Library hours, that’s especially interesting, since we voted on and pay a dedicated library parcel tax each year.  The idea of sustaining the library via yet another special tax – what a joke that turned out to be! 

    The corollary to cutting highly visible services is that thousands of local bureaucrats will keep sucking at the public teat and we, the taxpayers, have no idea what the hell they do for us!

  2. > “One thing is for certain…” – actually, two things are for certain, the other being that services to be cut will be highly visible and directly affect the residents.

    This is the old, time-honored budget ploy known as “the Gold Watch”.

    “Things are so dire that we will be forced to sell our most valuable treasure, Grand Pappy’s gold watch.”

    Ummm.  Why don’t you just cut back on drinking and gambling (and lavish public employee retirement benefits), and everything will be just fine.

  3. Simple way to save millions per year.  Lay every non essential employee off and offer them thier job back with with a 10% cut in hours or a 36 hour work week.

    For those who don’t want to come back; there are 10 unemployeed people who would jump at the jobs!

    Done, call it a day!

    Jimmy Hoffa

    • That is what the high-tech industry does.  They just disguise it a bit more subtely.  If you do not work at least 60 hours a week (no OT in high-tech), they will replace you with an H-1B.  Assuming your job does not get outsourced.

      The captains of industry have almost destroyed this valley in their never ending quest to enrich themselves at the expense of the workers.

      • I think you have hit the hammer on the nail of the problem. When our country extended NAFTA, etc into third world countries it doomed our own standard of living. Our middle class is disappearing, just as it has in third world countries. We are quickly becoming the haves and have nots. Our good jobs have been sent to a third world country to enrich those at the top. We like to blame city workers because they have the remnants of what many of us had in the recent past – good jobs with benefits. Now we are like crabs in a barrel. I believe in capitalism, but the greed in this valley is now coming home to roost. Those who were made paper millionaires, not that long ago for being a desk jockey and are now out of work, are no doubt the ones most resentful of those who still have jobs with benefits. If we continue to dismantle the employers still offering a steady job with benefits we will all be working in menial service or retail part time jobs. Instead of hating city workers, some of that anger should be spent on bringing jobs back from third world countries, using virtual slave labor, and destroying our own middle class.

        • > Instead of hating city workers, some of that anger should be spent on bringing jobs back from third world countries, using virtual slave labor, and destroying our own middle class.

          And, just why would anyone bring any jobs back to California when the environmental nihilists and the Saul Alinsky radicals are doing everything they can (and succeeding) in destroying the energy and agricultural infrastructure of the California economy.

          No offshore drilling = no energy = no manufacturing.

          No dams = no water = no agriculture.

          No manufacturing and no agriculture = no economy = no jobs.

          But, if you wait around long enough, you might be able to get an Obama bubble job as a census worker for a couple of months, and then in twenty or thirty years, you’ll be able to ride the Obama High Speed Rail from the San Franciso welfare voter plantation to the Los Angeles welfare voter plantation.

        • Millions of permanent jobs could be created by the building of hundreds of new nuclear power plants, but the environmental nuts that run many of our politicians wont allow it.

        • We have global economy that moves capital where there is less friction.

          A little friction is a good thing, at least for an artificial construct such as capital.  The only thing being ultimately saved by off shoring engineering jobs is a slightly bigger bonus for a few people.

        • Get over it. We have global economy that moves capital where there is less friction. Those jobs will never come back unless there is a pandemic flu that kills tens of millions of people. No President or Congress can bring those jobs back.

        • John,
          I don’t think we are in that much disagreement. I think your last paragraph is very accurate. I think high density low income housing is destroying San Jose.

        • Hey Steve,
          I think you’ve hit the head of the nail quite squarely by accurately striking it with your hammer.

          The middle class IS being wiped out. I’m in aggreement with you there. A society divided between haves and have nots is doomed to perpetual trouble.

          But here’s where I part ways with you:
          What really bugs me about this City is that it promotes policies that saturate the labor market, thus driving down wages in the private sector. But since, as a monopoly, it is not subject to the same market forces that it plays such a huge role in influencing, it can offer the kind of wages and benefits to it’s own employees that it is undermining for the rest of us.

          What this city needs is a good old fashioned labor shortage. Enforce immigration. Knock it off with the high density housing. Quit kowtowing to corporations. Live within our means and take care of our own.

  4. It continues to amaze me that unions in our city still don’t want to be team players and work with the city in balancing the budget.  They won’t take pay and benefit cuts then get upset when the alternative becomes laying off workers.  Note to unions:  You can’t have your cake and eat it too.  We are still years off from an economy that puts the budget in the black, and even then priorities will have to be put on the deferred maintenance of infrastructure across the city.  Time to start being a part of the solution than the problem.

    I have said it before and I will say it again, I don’t want to see any city worker laid off.  It would not only be disadvantageous to residents who don’t have people working to deal with city blight (I made a call to anti-graffiti over a month ago regarding graffiti and have yet to see it cleaned up) and to staff our libraries and community centers (this leads to bigger concerns particularly in my neighborhood where a senior center has been closed and now people wonder if will be simply boarded up which would add to issues in the park it’s located in) , but to those families of worker who rely on the income.  There are already too many people out there looking for work and the city shouldn’t be a part of adding to those numbers. 

    However, in order to get there we need to understand that we all have a responsibility in making the right things happen. Residents have accepted that it is their responsibility to adapt to the harsh realities of budget cuts, but it seems we are the only ones.  Unions too must take the responsibility of knowing that pay and benefits is what’s hurting the budget and accept the reality that they must concede to cuts in both. 

    Additionally, our elected officials must take responsibility in understanding that behind the scenes negotiating just isn’t enough anymore and that it’s time to play hardball and do what needs to be done to force union leaders to concede, because the reality is there is very little left to cut in the budget that in the long run won’t be detrimental to our city.  I look to them, particularly in these tough economic times, for the type of leadership that demands action even if it means hurt feelings.  Right now all we seem to get is talk for the sake of talk (unless I’m mistaken developing a budget isn’t like therapy where we begin to work out our issues by talking it out,) that has only lead to the budget situation getting worse.  Note to elected officials:  Enough with talk, it’s time for action.

    • “(I made a call to anti-graffiti over a month ago regarding graffiti and have yet to see it cleaned up)”

      That’s one problem—people expecting the government to do everything for them.  Just where was this graffiti?  Call the property owner and have him/her clean it up.

      Years ago shopkeepers swept the area in front of their shop.  Now they expect government to do it.  DTSJ formed some kind of assessment district and hired Groundwerx to do it.

      SJ has an Office of Cultural Affairs employing 16-18 people.  Since the AVERAGE salary of a city worker is $100k or so (janitors make $117k, including the value of benefits) that’s a lot of money for a NON-ESSENTIAL CITY SERVICE.  Yet, no-one in city government appears to have even considered abolishing that nice, but non-essential department to save a couple of million bucks.

      SJ took over Detroit’s spot as tenth largest city in the nation.  If the mayor and council don’t get their collective heads out of their collective asses and cut ALL NON-ESSENTIALS, we’ll be looking like Detroit soon.  Parts of it resemble post-war East Berlin.

  5. San Jose will raise every tax and fees that voters do not need to approve while cutting those services that voters care about as Council and City Managers attempts to get votes to approve more special taxes

    Mayor and Council need to tell City Manager to stop playing the ” Big Budget Lie Games” and actually:

    1) Lay off 100’s city staff not play the ” we reduced 100’s staff positions Game ” when all they did was eliminate vacant unfunded positions for no real budget savings.
    2) Lay off dozens of unneeded $ 125,000 -200,000 Senior Manages – like Assistant City Manager, Assistant Department Director , Deputy This or That who do not supervise anyone except $100,000 clerks and admin assistants who many should also be laid off
    3) Require all City Supervisors and Managers to supervise at least 8-12 people and eliminate those position who don’t
    4) Reduce or eliminate $ 100-150 million in taxes going to non city government groups – developers, property owners , corporations and questionable non profits and all non profits who do not provide an essential city service or can demonstrate they efficiently help those in need
    5) Outsource non essential city services to avoid high pension and benefits staff costs

    Anything else is another ” Big Budget Lie ” and does not solve San Jose budget deficit

  6. Maybe it’s time for us to face up to the future- a City Government that provides no discernible service or benefit to the people. Let’s accept our destiny and devote 100% of our tax dollars to funding the opulent retirements of people who used to work for the City.

  7. Gobbling up 100% of our tax dollars for no discernible service or benefit strikes me as unnecessarily grasping and insensitive insider politics for the twenty-first century.

    Wouldn’t it be more progressive if the City spent, say, 5% of the tax dollars on Mythologists, Story Tellers, or Witch Doctors to concoct some plausible sounding explanations that make the voters feel good about getting robbed and screwed?

    • A 62 year old police officer chasing down a 25 year old hardened parolee high on drugs and getting in a life or death struggle….not a great idea.

      • Steve, I agree that any out of shape 62 year old chasing someone and/or getting into a life or death struggle is a danger to their health. And in the case of the police doing this, it’s possibly a danger to the public as well. That is, unless the police officers adhere to strict physical regimines which should include annual fitness testing to ensure they are fit no matter what age. With the life expectency of around 75 – 80, there shouldn’t be any reason a 62 year old is forced to retire if they are able and willing to continue working as long as they can prove they are in shape (again, no matter what their age is!)

        I hope the SJPD has annual physical testing requirements in place simply a safety measure, for their sake and the sake of the public.


        • The SJPD has no annual physical testing requirement nor do they provide any type of fitness program to their officers. They use to have a fitness program but it was cut out years ago due to the budget.

          I disagree with you that an “in shape” 62 year old officer should be in a life or death struggle with someone 40 years younger. What is considered “in shape” for someone in their sixties is vastly different that someone in their twenties fresh out of prison and having nothing better to do in prison than lifting weights all day (at our expense).

        • Thanks Steve, for you continued thoughts. I should have been more clear earlier; I would rather have an officer who is involved in a life or death struggle be in shape vs. out of shape. That’s what I should have said.

          Also, I am alarmed that there are not mandatory annual physical fitness requirements for our police force. (I hope there are for the Fire Dept. too!)

          I do hope that those on the police force are motivated to stay in shape no matter who pays for their fitness program, again for their own health as well as to meet the rigorous demands of their job.


  8. There is a City Council study session on the budget shortfall issue this Tuesday Feb 16th from 9AM-12Noon at City Hall, Committee Rooms (Wing Rooms)118-120. It’s one of several meetings leading up to the final budget approval.

    A copy of the agenda and supplemental memos can be found here:

    It looks grim, folks. Even if the unions agree to wage concessions, it still looks grim, albeit not quite as bad as if the unions do not agree to help out.

    Some revenue sources I hope the Mayor/City Council will strongly consider:
    * Put the $10 MILLION in Tobacco Funds that the City gets annually into the General Fund. Right now as I understand it, the City gives it to various charities. A worthy cause? Absolutely! When we can afford to give $10 MILLION away. But I would rather see City employees keep their jobs. (And no, I do not work for the City.)

    *Approve the usage of medical marijuana dispensaries and treat them like any other business: Charge them a business license fee and tax them.


  9. Triage the retirement system.

    All new hires will be enrolled in CalPERS with the majority of the contributions paid by the employee and not the employer.

    All current employers could opt into the new system (CalPERS allows you to by your time from other workplaces into the system).  Those that choose to stay with the existing system would be encouraged to retire or find a job elsewhere with declining benefits for each year they stay on the job.

    Performance-based budgeting where benchmarks help evaluate whether traditional city employees can do the job efficiently.  Small cities simply outsource IT for example because its ridiculously expensive to keep all manner of experts on the payroll all year when they just need them part-time.  Can you pave a mile of street cheaper than a contractor?  Can another city do it better for less?  Why not pool the resources of a couple of neighboring cities instead of duplicating efforts (streets, traffic signals, wastewater treatment, etc.)  Could recruiting and other HR functions be pooled also?

    Streets and traffic, Police and Fire, Libraries and Parks, and politics seems to be the main functions of a municipal government.  What else is there?

    Also, let’s not let public safety unions scare us into over-paying.  If we lost a few officers or firefighters because they think they can make more elsewhere, that’s better than continuing to wreck the city budget.  For the education required, public safety workers have the highest pay and best retirement of any workers in the world.  Period.  The only thing remotely close is the lifetime medical that some politicians give themselves after a term or two on a school board or other public body.

    I would suggest that over-time be capped in all city departments with no one permitted to work more than 5-10% overtime without city manager approval, case by case, and it has to go to council if any department has a large number working over-time.

    I also believe we can eliminate or roll-back some other benefit enhancements.  I’d rather survive without city services (strike) for awhile than cave on renegotiating labor contracts more to the advantage of the citizen-taxpayer-owners of this city.

    Lastly, it used to be a requirement that you live in the city to be a city employee.  Then they relaxed it to be within so many miles of the city hall.  Now they have people commuting into work from San Francisco and Tracy who are drawing salaries from our community but are not really a part of it.

    I don’t like the old days where big companies had company towns with company housing and paid you in company script at the company store, so I’m wary of going to far with this city workers should live here sentiment, but just wanted to throw it out there.

    Discretionary spending is money you actually have, minus commitments you can’t break.  I’d like to something in the way of service level commitments and a prudent reserve rather than just waffling from boom to bust.  This problem, however, has been coming for awhile independent of the economy due to some major structural problems in the way the city is run (politically and otherwise.)  The term-limit stuff creates a pandering political climate where long term thinking just isn’t part of the culture.  We could almost use some structural political changes to get some better results.

    • Blair,
      Why is it that so many city workers, as well as workers in the private sector, have been moving to communities such as Tracy for the past 20 or so years?

      • Perceived quality of life issues and values judgments seem likely.  It was perceived that having a large house and yard was a better quality of life decision, even though you doom yourself (wage earner) to not being their with the family to enjoy it much since you’re dealing with horrible commutes.

        Is it worth having less house but less commute?  As San Jose has grown larger, it has inherited more big city problems such as failing schools, gangs and urban blight.  Would you like to raise a young family in the places you could afford a starter home?

        All judgement calls.  The real secret is to live below your means and built your wealth slowly and invest.  Most people buy and spend every dime they earn and borrow for a little more.  There’s some psychological issues here and it reflects a wider social problem than just city workers fleeing the city.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *