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City budget still bloated, DeMaio says

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San Diego City Councilman and mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio unleashed a new prop Tuesday.

Instead of his telephone book-length recovery plan, the mayoral candidate at a press conference waved an air filter to demonstrate his pledge to reform city government.

It referred to his finding that the city was paying a 359 percent premium on air filters purchased through a contractor. The discovery was one of many in a newly released report that detailed more than $130 million in what DeMaio calls wasteful annual spending.

A spokesperson for Mayor Jerry Sanders later clarified that the exorbitant air filters cost the city $376 before the vendor’s overcharging was recognized, and the city now purchases them at a discounted price.

DeMaio nonetheless used the filter as a symbol that the city’s budget is still too big.

He said he issued the report exactly four weeks before San Diego’s mayoral primary because the city is in the midst of its budgeting process. He called on the City Council to reduce the length of next year’s report on waste.

“Some politicians say there’s no waste left to cut in the budget,” he said. “Well, that’s simply wrong.”

Sanders’ office moved quickly to question DeMaio’s findings. It said his report was based on outdated numbers.

“Once again, (DeMaio) is trying to get himself elected mayor by making wild-eyed exaggerations and assuming the public is too gullible to see through his act,” wrote Darren Pudgil, the mayor’s communications director, in an email.

The list of wasteful expenditures is largely composed of items DeMaio has railed against during his time in the City Council.

Benefits for city employees make up a majority of the $130 million in spending. The list also points to what DeMaio calls duplicative or needless city services or offices, “bloated” budgets and purchasing overages, such as the payment for air filters that served as a symbol for the report.

He also counts $11 million in budgeted funds from “inaction on managed competition,” a competitive bidding program for city services he has championed.

One city service that’s moved through the managed competition program, however, is the city’s fleet services, and it too finds its way onto the list of wasted expenditures.

City employees last year won a contract against private bidders to retain control of the city’s automobile needs, cutting 92 positions and saving $4.4 million annually. The new contract and others to come out of the program have been used by Sanders and other managed competition proponents as an example of how the program can be used to leverage savings: Employees are incentivized to trim non-essential elements when faced with losing the entire service to private competition.

DeMaio’s report, though, cites more than $4 million in waste and mismanagement of the city’s fleet in the 2013 fiscal-year budget, even after the service went through managed competition. The report says 113 of the city’s 4,000 vehicles logged less than 1,000 miles in 2011, and 18 were never even used.

Despite counting $4 million in waste within an area that’s already been subject to managed competition, DeMaio’s report counts $11 million in savings if the program were to be expanded more quickly.

DeMaio said he has questions about the fairness of the program, particularly its provision that private bidders need to beat the city’s bid by more than 10 percent.

“The level playing field that does not exist for managed competition really concerns me, because my concern is that we will have fewer and fewer bids, and there may be some competitions where we receive no bids,” he said.

Pudgil called DeMaio’s assertions outdated because they were based on a June 2011 report by the city auditor.

“As DeMaio himself surely must know, the city has been reducing the number of employee take-home vehicles for years,” Pudgil wrote. The police and fire departments have eliminated 50 take-home vehicles since the report was released, according to Pudgil.

In a statement preempting the press conference, Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher’s mayoral campaign attacked DeMaio’s use of taxpayer money while in office, and asked why he hadn’t addressed more of these items during his term.

“Waste at City Hall is a serious thing, but Carl should remove the plank from his eye before he goes after the speck in his neighbor’s,” the email read.

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