Budget deal deserves City Council support

March 3, 2007

City Council President Scott Peters merits praise for defusing a potentially serious confrontation over Mayor Jerry Sanders' budget authority. The constructive compromise worked out by Peters and Sanders would preserve the mayor's essential power to streamline city operations, while also preserving the City Council's legitimate authority to enact the budget.

Last month, at the instigation of Councilwoman Donna Frye, a bare majority of the City Council hastily repealed an ordinance that specifically authorized the mayor's power to impose efficiencies in municipal departments. The council vote was an ill-advised backlash against Sanders' efforts to eliminate two minor but expensive programs.

San Diego's powerful public employee unions can be counted on to do everything they can to thwart Sanders' reform plans. Frye's measure complied perfectly with the unions' agenda. But in order to become law, the ordinance must be approved by the City Council on a second reading, which now appears highly unlikely because of the sensible compromise devised by Peters.

Under the deal, which Councilman Tony Young also helped to broker, the mayor would be free to manage city departments as he sees fit, including reducing spending, provided the savings does not exceed 10 percent of a department's budget or $4 million, whichever is less. Larger reductions below already budgeted amounts would require City Council approval.

Frye predictably rejects the compromise and hopes to continue her power struggle with Sanders. The rest of the City Council, however, should recognize the importance of the compromise and approve it when it comes up for a vote on March 19. Ultimately, voter-approved amendments to the city charter will be required to clarify the budgetary powers of the mayor and the City Council. In the meantime, the Peters proposal is a sound solution.