If you haven't heard the news yet, my home town of San Bernardino became the third city in California in the past two months to go bankrupt.
Times are tense, and the community is restless for answers. How did we get ourselves into this mess? What steps were taken that led us into this trench, leaving us on the verge of desperation and turmoil?
A lot of the talk has circled around the subject of unsustainable pensions. The Press Enterprise recently reported that the City of San Bernardino owes $143.3 million to the state employees retirement system, and Mayor Patrick Morris stated that 72 percent of the city's general fund goes towards public safety. But are the employees really to blame?
The idiom states, "It takes two to tango." I think it is clearly evident that the root of the issue is a combination of bad fiscal management and irresponsible pension/salary negotiations with the city's workforce. To put this in simple terms, the deals made over the years were not in the best interest of the taxpayer.
While we may argue that the larger issue is that the state legislature needs to quit stalling on pension reforms and find ways to ease the rising public expense, I believe we need to first start dealing with the problems that are under our control, at home. We have to understand that unsustainable pensions are a direct result of irresponsible bargains. Promises that were once made are now ready to be fulfilled.
I tip my hat to the unions who were able to negotiate those great deals in the interest of business. As a business owner myself, I understand the tact and skill it requires to pull off good bargain. I don't want to take away from that.
For this reason I believe that in San Bernardino, we the taxpayers have done a poor job at keeping our elected officials accountable when it comes to these salary and pension negotiations. As former San Bernardino City Councilman Tobin Brinker suggests, these types of deals often go under the radar, and then like a deer caught in the headlights, we get hit becoming dazed and confused.
Councilman Brinker stated that back in 2006 he had asked for records that would provide information on the dates when the council had voted on paying for an employee's entire CalPERS pension cost. To this date, he says, he still hasn't received any information.
The time has come for us to step up and speak out. Across the board, our civic engagement needs to dramatically increase in these areas because the future of our city is at stake.
We the taxpayers need to take back the power and authority that belongs to us collectively. Otherwise, we will continue to tread down the same roads that led us here. It is our responsibility to ensure our taxpaying dollars are being well-spent.