SLO City Council is saving taxpayers $19 million. Here’s how

Everybody wants their elected officials to be fiscally responsible, except when it comes to their own pet project or complaint.

I know this because I spent 15 years working in government behind the dais and got to see that firsthand. It takes real strength for an elected official to be fiscally responsible and do what is best for the community in the face of public pressure to do things that would provide instant gratification — a strength that we don’t always see in elected officials.

Now I am serving on the other side of the dais as the president/CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and advocating for policies to government. Specifically, the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce has, for several years, encouraged the San Luis Obispo City Council to attack its unfunded pension liability with a commitment that matches the severity of the problem.

Unfunded pension liability is the amount of money owed to a pension system to ensure all payments can be made to pension recipients. These unfunded liabilities are wreaking havoc on city, state and federal budgets across this country, because they end up eating up more and more of those governmental budgets.

Cities such as Chicago, Dallas and Jacksonville all see pension liabilities eating up more than 30 percent of their annual budgets.

Why is this issue so important to the residents of the city of San Luis Obispo and the SLO Chamber of Commerce? Think in terms of high-interest credit card debt and its potential impact on your household income.

The more that your credit card debt grows and the more of your household income that is devoured by payments to that debt, the less disposable income you have to pay for other things you really need. This is what unfunded pension liabilities are doing to governmental budgets across this country — eliminating government’s ability to spend taxpayer dollars on key infrastructure projects.

Thanks to the incredible work and strength of the San Luis Obispo City Council, its city manager and its staff, the council recently approved a long-term plan that will pay down that unfunded debt.

If this didn’t reach your radar, you aren’t alone — government actions to be more financially responsible are not always the stuff of viral social media posts or dinner party conversation. Some argued that the city should have prioritized that money differently, but the council made the fiscally responsible decision to pay down that debt as fast as practically possible. That’s what true strength looks like.

If the city sticks to its plan, it will eliminate that unfunded liability by 2038 — 10 years early —and save the taxpayers of the city of San Luis Obispo $19 million dollars.

What does that mean for us? The city will be able to continue providing important services including public safety, community infrastructure and many other much-needed services into the future.

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce, who have long advocated for this vital action, I would like to commend all the members of the San Luis Obispo City Council on their dedication to fiscal responsibility. We will continue to champion for future councils to follow the lead of this council’s decision.

Jim Dantona was chief of staff for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez before being named president/CEO of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce in November, 2018.

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