Villarreal’s recent column missing facts
by Nathan Alonzo
Nathan Alonzo: Mayoral hopeful Mike Villarreal is wrong about public safety benefits.
Local 624 President Chris Steele, other members of the San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association and I recently met with former state Rep. and mayoral candidate Mike Villarreal to explain the public safety benefits debate from the perspective of the professional firefighters.
Now, Villarreal is a smart guy — Texas A&M- and Harvard-educated — and he seemed to understand the basic, indisputable fact that until we get an independent actuary to give a fair and transparent assessment of the financial assumptions, there will be no more progress on public safety contract negotiations; he went so far as to take credit for proposing the idea.
That is why it was so disappointing to see his guest column (“City Hall must defend San Antonio’s bond rating”) where he gets it wrong. If the level of research and attention he invested in his column is indicative of the leadership he would bring to City Hall, taxpayers are fortunate to have other choices for mayor.
Campaign season is often called the “silly season” and far too often we see career politicians who will say anything and do anything to get elected. I never thought that was the case with Villarreal, until now. His comment ignored so many basic facts that space constraints prohibit a point-by-point counter, but his most egregious false statements cannot go unchallenged.
First and foremost, our bond rating is not in danger. This myth has been trotted out by the city manager and others as a scare tactic. Our bond rating is more likely to be negatively impacted by the structural deficit the city manager builds into her budget forecast each year. Do not take my word for it, Villarreal said it himself.
Villarreal’s own column references that public safety costs are “indicative of a large population and demand for services.” Moody’s justifies the investment in public safety as a reflection of our size, not any nefarious plot by public safety workers. And, as referenced in Villarreal’s own column, Moody’s goes on to single out that the city manager projected yet another $27.4 million deficit.
The premier rating service in the country agrees with the position of the professional firefighters: Public safety costs are not out of line and structural deficits are a serious threat.
Next, Villarreal treats the concept of public safety workers paying for a portion of their health insurance like man discovering fire. There has never been any discussion to the contrary. Both public safety associations have acknowledged this repeatedly. The fact is that the public safety side is the only side proposing reasonable reforms to the benefits package. But, as we saw with the most recent counter proposal by the San Antonio Police Officers Association, the city manager refuses to negotiate and even refused to release a taxpayer-financed actuarial report on the proposal. Reasonable people must ask themselves what she has to hide.
Finally, Villarreal simply regurgitates the already-debunked myth that public safety costs are devouring the general fund at such a rate that in 2031 public safety costs will consume the entire general fund. If Villarreal would exercise the economics and public finance knowledge he so proudly touts, he would see what every objective look at the budget shows: The city manager systematically moves money out of the general fund to the Capital Fund or the Restricted Fund. Villarreal is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.
The city manager’s budget proposal boasts that the general fund has been reduced by nearly $88 million since 2007. The fact is that if even only one-third of that amount was included in the most recent budget, public safety costs would have remained virtually flat from 2013 to 2014.
The shell games with the various city funds is designed to skew the numbers to support the position of those who seek to gut public safety benefits in order to spend that money on more legacy projects and vanity projects.
Recently, the firefighters association offered a simple, common-sense proposal to have our association, SAPOA, and the city manager all name an independent, third-party actuary and then invite a federal mediator to determine which numbers are the best reflection of the actual financial situation.
If Villarreal is serious about his desire for the city and the public safety workers to resolve contract differences, he will endorse our proposal and encourage the city manager to withdraw her lawsuit, bring in an independent, third-party actuary, and get back to the negotiating table.
Now that would be real leadership.
Nathan Alonzo is a member of San Antonio Professional Fire Fighters Association, Local 624.