Southern California is in the middle of the one of the worst outbreaks of the coronavirus in the country as thousands of businesses shutter their doors. Shifting safety guidelines have made it difficult for local business owners to earn a living during the pandemic.
As the situation grew increasingly dire, the new mayor of San Diego and the new city council members received a massive pay increase on the day of their inauguration, sparking outrage across the city. Many people, including sitting city council member Carl DeMaio, are calling on these elected officials not to accept the pay raise, so the state will have more money for those that need it most.
A Steep Pay Increase
When Todd Gloria was sworn in as the new mayor of San Diego on Thursday, December 10th, he received a generous pay increase. The previous mayor, Kevin Faulconer, had a salary of $100,000, but Gloria is expected to rake in $200,000 a year during his time in office.
On the same day, DeMaio became the first LGBTQ person and the first person of color elected to the San Diego City Council. All five of the incoming city council members were set to receive a pay raise as well, going from $75,000 a year to $125,000. Now DeMaio is calling out his new colleagues and the mayor for cashing in when their constituents are going hungry or worried about paying their rent.
After the inauguration, DeMaio jumped on the other members for “taking massive pay raises on day one in office, in the middle of an economic downturn and pandemic.” He went on to say, “Todd Gloria is going to get a mayoral salary that is double what Kevin Faulconer earned. The salary is going to go from about $100,000 to over $200,000 today alone. And the city council member salaries will be increased from $75,000, to over $125,000 each.”
He called the pay increases “shameful,” urging officials to send that money to those that need it most.
DeMaio noted the timing couldn’t be worse. “As small businesses are closing their doors, as working families are unemployed, the idea that our politicians are taking pay raises at the same time? No. They have to lead by example and turn down those pay raises until we get through this rough patch.”
Why the Pay Increase?
While many are expressing concern over the pay hikes, city officials no longer have control over how much they earn while in office.
Voters in the county passed Measure L back in 2018, an ethics reform bill that prevents mayors and sitting city council members from voting on their salaries, a potential conflict of interest. The salaries are now tied to Supreme Court judges.
Earlier in the year, the city announced a massive budget deficit due to the coronavirus. As tourists stopped spending money and businesses started closing their doors, former Mayor Faulconer said the city had lost $250 million in tax revenue. The budget cuts forced the city to eliminate 350 public positions, while reducing hours at libraries, rec centers, and other public spaces.
Bob Ottilie, the attorney who wrote Measure L, argues it was necessary, considering the city’s elected officials hadn’t seen a pay raise in more than 15 years.
“They had fallen about 40 percent behind where they were in purchasing power, and what we were seeing was that the quality of individuals that were elected to office was gradually deteriorating,” he said.
Some are hoping the pay increase will help encourage more qualified candidates to run for public office. But DeMaio argues they are a slap in the face to local business owners trying to make ends meet.
When Measure L passed, it did not specify the exact pay rate of public officials, only that they would be tied to Supreme Court judges.
DeMaio says the measure passed with 78% of the vote because the question was vaguely worded. “Voters approved a measure that really did not, in its title or summary, emphasize the massive salary increase the mayor and city council would receive,” he said.
The mayor and city council members have the option of refusing the pay raise. When Gloria was running for mayor, he said he would decline to accept the money if elected, but he has yet to announce his decision.
Public officials should be well compensated for their time, but not at the expense of other essential workers. With budget shortfalls, cities and states across the country will have to make hard decisions in terms of who gets paid and who gets laid off.