San Diego mayoral candidate Bob Filner recently intimated that the city’s pension problems were created by politicians, not the working class. On rare occasions, Filner is at least partially correct. This is one such instance.
This election year, San Diegans will be asked to promote to higher office two ex-city council members — Scott Peters and Brian Maienschein — who were in no small way directly responsible for our pension problems and were part of the infamous “Negligent 5.” Heads up!
As voters may recall, the New York City-based risk management firm Kroll Inc. issued an independent report singling out 5 members of the city council for their part in underfunding the pension system, leaving taxpayers holding the bag on a $1.43 billion pension shortfall. That’s billion with a “B,” and is arguably an even worse deficit today. These five with their negligence (or worse) were also responsible for a downgrade in the city’s credit rating that for a time effectively banned the city from the municipal bond market, and for unprecedented sanctions from the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
A big part of the negligence involved a dishonest San Diego municipal bond prospectus that failed to inform investors of the magnitude of the unfunded liability of the city pension fund. Interestingly, San Diego City Councilman Brian Maienschein – an attorney – claimed he simply didn’t understand the legal aspects of the prospectus, or what he voted to approve. Indeed, during his eight years as a city councilman, Maienschein was never noted for asking probing questions about any of the city’s finances – he was pretty much an “empty suit” while he filled the seat.
Maienschein was one of the “Negligent 5.” Now he is vying for a seat in the State Assembly as a Republican. After his failed bid for City Attorney in 2008, we haven’t heard much from the one-time mayor/supervisor hopeful. In a time when the number one issue in California is getting the State’s finances in order, Brian made a curious choice for a political comeback, given his previous record.
The biggest political issue in San Diego this June will be the Comprehensive Pension Reform Initiative — pension reform necessitated in part by the actions of the Negligent 5 — a proposition to undo and unravel the mess that led the New York Times to dub our city “Enron by the Sea.”
So the question is, with pensions being at the top of everyone’s political radar, how does Brian Maienschein avoid the scrutiny that is almost certain to result from his high-profile responsibility for this debacle? Where can he possibly go for support?
In 2000, he sought out organized labor, and they rewarded him by supporting him over GOP rival Tom Cleary. But one has to figure labor is not thrilled with the spotlight now being shined on the city’s bloated pension system, thanks to the efforts of Brian and his colleagues. If Maienschein wins, the Democrat Party will party long into the night. Think of Brian as the heir to the Maldonado RINO mantle in the state legislature – the key vote that might indeed give the Democrats their coveted 2/3 majority for raising taxes through the roof.
At the other end of the spectrum, can Brian secure the support of business and the Republican establishment? While Brian has gained early support from some in the community, one has to wonder if San Diego fiscal conservatives — fresh off spending over a million dollars qualifying the pension reform initiative for the ballot — are ready to support a candidate whose actions on the council helped create the very problem their initiative seeks to correct.
And, what about the nearly 150,000 voters of San Diego who signed the petition? Will they support a candidate who helped cause this problem in the first place? Will the taxpayers support a candidate who started collecting an IMMEDIATE annual pension of $25,306 for his 8 years on the city council (over a third of a current city council person’s salary) before his 40th birthday? This San Diego city politician special pension that allows such early pensions is arguably the most absurd benefit giveaway in the state – if not the nation. Maienschein makes no apologies for bellying up to the taxpayer trough – including the “purchase” of an extra five years’ pension credits at well below the actual cost (taxpayers pick up the shortfall) – something we no longer allow in San Diego.
How about the Republican Party, which had to fend off Brian’s campaign against endorsed candidate Jan Goldsmith for City Attorney in 2008? His tactics during that campaign prompted the GOP Chairman to lash out against this so-called Republican candidate saying “using the Republican name and logos in such a deceitful manner is not only shameful, but an insult to Republican voters, who will not be so easily fooled.”
Fortunately, there is a choice in this race for fiscal conservatives. Dustin Steiner is a true conservative. He’s not in the pocket of organized labor, and he’s never violated taxpayers’ trust by supporting sweetheart pension deals with public employee unions. The taxpayers of San Diego County – indeed, the people throughout California – simply cannot afford six years of Brian Maienschein voting on state taxes as a legislator.