ELECTION ’12//ALAMEDA CITY COUNCIL | Never shy to stray from the Democratic Party’s prevailing wisdom, Alameda city council candidate Tony Daysog says he has a plan to alleviate the city’s perplexing unfunded liabilities without affecting municipal services.
Exactly how much Alameda is on the hook when it comes its obligations to current and retired public employee is open for debate. Speaking at a candidates forum Wednesday night at Alameda Hospital, Daysog put the total at around $200 million, while others contend it is really about $90 million. A speaker Tuesday night, floated it was as high as $350 million.
Daysog, who served as councilman from 1996-2006 and finished a distant fourth in the mayor’s race in 2010, believes the city’s public safety employees must pay more into their pensions. While Alameda’s police officers and firefighters already pay 11 percent to their pensions–a figure Daysog admits is high when compared to the contributions of public safety workers in nearby cities. “The magnitude of the situation is that they are going to have to pay more,” he said. As much as 15 percent, the maximum allowable.
“This is the big question every single candidate–if they’re serious–has to address” said Daysog. “What steps are you going to take to close the unfunded liability of $200 million?”
Although Daysog’s prescription for Alameda’s unfunded liabilities lacks specifics, nevertheless, it is still more detailed than virtually any other candidate running for office this fall on the platform of fiscal sustainability.
Asking public safety to bear more of the burden will not erase all of the city’s debts to workers, Daysog admits and fixing the problem will take years. He believes 7-9 percent in unspecified cuts to the budget will help over time to “buy down the debt.”
“Those cuts, in my estimation, won’t result in a dilution of municipal services,” he says. To achieve his path to fiscal solvency, Daysog proposes cutting back public employee hours by 60 minutes per week. He surmises cutting back the hour, for instance, in the early morning hours when presumably fewer residents are seeking questions about city services will result in negligible impacts in customer service.
Harking back to Al Gore’s infamous “lock box” proposal during the 2000 presidential campaign, Daysog said he would use a similar gambit for steering potential new city revenues into lowering its debts to pensioners. “Whatever new revenues that come down in the future,” he said, “we need to have a policy that they be put in a lock box of sorts to buy down the unfunded liability.” However, Daysog said Alameda’s fiscal future is nowhere near as dire as compared to city’s like Vallejo, Stockton and San Bernardino.
Wednesday night’s forum hosted by the Alameda Citizens Task Force consisted of just three of the eight candidates for two certain open seats on the council. A third seat could open up for the third-place finisher if current Alameda Vice Mayor Rob Bonta wins a seat this fall in the State Assembly. In addition to Daysog, candidates Jeff Cambra and Jane Sullwold also answered questions from the group. On the subject of pension reform, however, neither offered specifics, but preached aspects of fiscal austerity.
“The city must be run like a business,” said Cambra, a former assistant city attorney in Hayward and long-time business owner. “I would spend the city’s money like I would spend my own.” Cambra also stressed the importance of keeping the city’s reserves intact in the case of emergency.
Sullwold, a member of the city’s golf commission, said while many of Alameda’s special interests group crave adding or improving amenities such as sports fields and swimming pools, the city must prioritize its fiscal responsibilities first and “see what we can find in the future.” The economy will eventually perk up, she said confidently, but when and which segments improve more quickly than others is anybody’s guess.
Current Councilwoman Beverly Johnson is also in a field of eight candidates that include Marilyn Ezzy, Stewart Chen, Gerard Valbuena Dumuk and Joana Darc Weber.