U-T: Scott Peters’ pension problems
By U-T San Diego Editorial Board
Monday, October 15, 2012
San Diego’s pension debacle – driven by astounding 1996 and 2002 City Council decisions to increase benefits while underfunding the pension system – hangs like a cloud over the congressional candidacy of Scott Peters. As a councilman in 2002, Peters was one of the city leaders who helped to dig the hole that will take City Hall a generation to escape.
This is why it was dumbfounding to learn that Peters, as a member of the Port of San Diego board, had in 2009 suggested underfunding future pension obligations to free up money for other uses. Even if a port actuary recommended the underfunding, as Peters said in a Monday telephone interview, how could he not dismiss it out of hand?
Maybe because, as Scott Lewis of the Voice of San Diego wrote in 2008, Peters “has always believed that all of the scandal of 2002 and beyond was largely an artificial bubble of hysteria.”
This, of course, is in sharp contrast to the tidy narrative that Peters now offers: The pension crisis was figured out. He and other leaders owned up to the scandal and got it fixed. And now San Diego is a poster child for pension reform.
But when asked about events that undercut this self-serving account, Peters’ memory goes fuzzy.
It is a matter of public record that in 2005 and 2006, then-City Council members Peters, Toni Atkins, Jim Madaffer and Brian Maienschein and former Mayor Dick Murphy used taxpayer-funded attorneys to try to block disclosure of their hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer-paid legal bills related to a federal investigation of City Hall. (The probe led to Securities and Exchange Commission sanctions against the city for failing to disclose severe pension underfunding to municipal bond investors in 2002 and 2003.)
“I don’t believe there was ever an attempt to hide anything,” Peters said Monday. “I can’t imagine that we could have been more forthcoming.”
But Peters and the others didn’t just try to hide their legal bills to minimize public backlash. As council president, Peters continued to hold closed-session meetings on important public matters related to the pension mess – operating in the same secret fashion that led to the 2002 pension subterfuge. When the City Council was criticized by this editorial page for this practice in fall 2006, Peters described our concern as “infantile and voyeuristic.” This tone was in keeping with his dismissive response to a report earlier that year from the Kroll investigative firm that found he and other city leaders had been “negligent” in their official duties in 2002.
On Monday, Peters’ self-absolution was still in evidence. As for his 2002 actions, Peters said, “I’m not saying I didn’t make mistakes” – but that “it is true that we listened to the staff. I’m not a securities analyst.”
You see, a Duke- and New York University-educated lawyer just can’t be expected to figure out that raising pension benefits while cutting pension funding isn’t just risky, it’s daffy. And seven years later, when a port actuary allegedly suggested to Peters that underfunding pensions was a sound option, he still was ready to run with it.
This doesn’t reflect well on Peters – and neither does his attempt to rewrite his own history.
Please Note: Scott Peters’ fiscal judgment has also been tested, in particular in his days on the City Council. And he was found wanting. In the exhaustive 2006 report of independent experts who investigated the city’s pension crisis, Peters was identified as one of five council members who were “negligent” in voting in 2002 to intentionally underfund the city pension fund while at the same time increasing pension benefits – a decision that played a major role in the City Hall financial crisis of the past decade. His subsequent explanation of that vote, that he was just following the recommendation of city staff, doesn’t wash.
Bilbray for Congress: The economic times demand it
By U-T San Diego Editorial Board
Thursday, September 20, 2012
In advance of the June 5 primary election, the U-T San Diego Editorial Board took the unusual step of endorsing two candidates, Republican Brian Bilbray and Democrat Scott Peters, in the race for a seat in Congress representing the newly redrawn 52nd District that is mostly in San Diego but also takes in Poway on the north and Coronado to the south.
Bilbray, who currently represents the mostly North County 50th Congressional District, and Peters, a former San Diego City Council member now serving as board chairman of the Unified Port District, were in our view the cream of the 10-candidate crop. Both candidates have their strengths and weaknesses, we editorialized, hoping that a November runoff would clarify which candidate is the better fit for the district and which would best represent the interests of San Diego in the House of Representatives.
Sadly, the general election campaign to date has been anything but an issues-based debate on the soaring federal debt, runaway entitlement programs or the looming “fiscal cliff,” much less on health care or Congress’ role in foreign policy issues like the war in Afghanistan, the struggle against global terrorism, Iran’s nuclear weapons program or the turmoil in the Middle East and northern Africa. Rather, one of the most-watched congressional races in the country, a race that will help determine political control of Congress next year, has seemingly been hijacked by a barrage of petty television attack ads financed by the national Republican and Democratic congressional campaign committees.
But it has nevertheless clarified things.
Cutting through all the political garbage, the bottom line for us, and probably most voters, is this: According to the Congressional Budget Office, the federal budget deficit for 2012-13 will be $1.1 trillion. That is $35,000 a second, $2.1 million a minute, $125 million an hour and $3 billion a day. And deficit upon deficit, year after year, has pushed the total national debt past $16 trillion. Literally every issue that Congress deals with, particularly in the next two to four years, will be shaped by how the president and Congress deal with the frightening reality of those shocking numbers.
In our view, continued Republican control of the House is imperative if the nation is to avoid becoming a financial basket case of the likes of Greece, and if we are to restore anything like the economic growth we need to put millions of people back to work, bring stability to Social Security and Medicare, maintain military strength without equal in the world, rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, protect the environment and do the gazillion other things demanded of the national government.
We have had our differences with Bilbray over the years, particularly regarding the hot-button issue of immigration reform. And we take serious note of the fact that several influential business leaders in San Diego have endorsed Peters.
But Brian Bilbray has been tested in the congressional battles and he has proved to be a consistent fiscal conservative who knows the path we must follow on those paramount issues of the debt, the deficit, economic growth and fostering the innovation economy that is so crucial to San Diego. That is why he was named legislator of the year for 2011 by BIOCOM, the San Diego-based association for the Southern California life science community. And the National Federal of Independent Business endorsed Bilbray, saying his leadership on the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee was “critical to the small-business owners” of his district.
Scott Peters’ fiscal judgment has also been tested, in particular in his days on the City Council. And he was found wanting. In the exhaustive 2006 report of independent experts who investigated the city’s pension crisis, Peters was identified as one of five council members who were “negligent” in voting in 2002 to intentionally underfund the city pension fund while at the same time increasing pension benefits – a decision that played a major role in the City Hall financial crisis of the past decade. His subsequent explanation of that vote, that he was just following the recommendation of city staff, doesn’t wash.
With the national economy still struggling, and with our debt piling up at a grotesque rate, there is nothing more important than for San Diego to keep a common-sense fiscal conservative in Congress.
We support the campaign of Brian Bilbray and endorse his election in the 52nd Congressional District.